IN the days before the coming of the Coquecigrues, a phenomenon was apparent in the land which students of society knew as the “grand manner.” It was primarily an affectation of the beau monde, and he who adopted it considered himself bound to attain distinction in many paths. A man is above his profession, it was held, especially if he be a gentleman, and it is his duty to do much, but to do it with ease and the grand air. He must bear no traces of the struggle ; he must be ready at any hour to play a quite different part: if he is a statesman, he must be also a scholar ; if a poet, a man of fashion; if a wit, a man of affairs. He should come fresh from port and the classics to the bench or the council board, and do his work as to the manner born ; but, granted the presumption of competence, he must wear his honors lightly, and excel in other things. And so a great and full-blooded race of men arose, men like the Elizabethans, who were soldiers and poets : a Lord Herbert of Cherbury, who was philosopher, physicist, and bravo in one, or the Carterets and Foxes of the eighteenth century, who were statesmen by trade, and wits and scholars at their leisure. The manner, to be sure, found its critics, chiefly from the ranks of the incompetent. “It is with genius as with a fine fashion,” wrote Pope : “ all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it.” Learned serjeants “ shook their heads at Murray as a wit,” and excellent persons looked askance at Fox. But for the connoisseur, who ranges history for what pleases him, there is much to attract in the florid personages who refuse to be classified by their professions ; for when their solid achievement is deducted, much fascinating human stuff remains to delight the biographer.
The great Lord Mansfield (such is the title on his statue in the Abbey) is a notable example of the race. In many ways he is the most imposing figure in the history of the English bench. He had a profound effect upon the development of law ; he held one or other of the great law offices for almost half a century ; and he dominated his colleagues as no other chief justice has ever done. But it is possible to disregard this technical side, and still find a wonderful figure of a man, a statesman, and a scholar. Lord Campbell devotes an unwilling chapter to the consideration of his decisions ; for, he says, to write of Mansfield and take no note of them would be like writing of Bacon with no hint of his philosophy, or of Marlborough without mention of his wars. But there is much in Bacon besides philosophy, and the duke was more than a strategist, and the great lord chief justice may be profitably studied apart from his profession.
Mansfield has been notoriously unfortunate in his biographers. The only professed Life is by the egregious Mr. Holliday, a barrister of Lincoln’s Inn, which is by universal consent one of the most dull and inaccurate in the language. Lord Brougham has written a short sketch, and Lord Campbell has dealt with him, as with all the chief justices, in a spirit of warm and uncritical appreciation. But the materials for history are everywhere. No memoirwriter of the time neglects him, every anecdotist gives him his share, and his public life is written large in law reports and parliamentary journals. He was as bitterly hated as he was extravagantly admired, and Horace Walpole and Junius are careful to preserve this odium. He was the friend of Pope, and one of the few objects of Dr. Johnson’s respect. His long life extended from the days of Jacobitism to the French Revolution and the rise of Fox. He was Scots by birth and descent, and English by education, so the interest of two very different peoples has centred upon his career. In such an embarrassment of riches it is hard to pick and choose, and the proper biographer, when he arises, will have a complicated task to his hand.
The most notable figures at the eighteenth-century bar came from two classes: a Hardwicke and an Eldon from the English bourgeoisie; a Mansfield, a Loughborough, and an Erskine from Scotch younger sons. In many ways the latter had the smaller chance of success. As a rule they were extremely poor, and they were without exception absurdly proud. In the end their perfervid genius and their northern wits carried them into power, but they had a hard path to travel. Of them all Mansfield had the easiest life. His was a nature born to success, free from the little roughnesses which impede ; a soul self-contained, clear-sighted, dispassionate, and patient. He was given a fair chance, for he had the best education which his time could afford, and he had a certain ready-made circle of friends. But, when all has been said, his achievement is remarkable. He was famous when little more than a youth ; he conquered his profession while living as a friend of wits and poets and a gentleman of the town. And when he had reached his desire, then came those many years of serene and dignified work, where there is no sign of effort, the fine flower of an industrious youth.
He was the eleventh child of the fifth Lord Stormont, descended from the Murrays of Tullibardine, and connected with the houses of Buccleugh and Montrose. The family fortune was not great, and in the tumble-down castle of Scone, where he was born, the bringing-up of the fourteen children must have been Spartan. For some reason or other, a story has got about that he was taken to London as a child, which is as accurate as the other legend, that he was born at Bath and educated at Lichfield. Dr. Johnson believed it, and used to say that “ much may be made of a Scotsman if he be caught young; ” but there is little doubt that the young Murray was first sent to the grammar School of Perth, and abode there till his fourteenth year. Scots grammar schools of that time may have been deficient in many things, but they could teach Latinity ; and Mansfield used to declare that it was there, also, he first learned the genius and structure of his mother tongue. At first he lived at home, riding to school on a pony, and running about barefoot with the small boys of the place. Long afterwards Grub Street pamphleteers made merry with this early training. “ Learning was very cheap in his country,” wrote one scribbler ; “ and it is very common to see there a boy of quality lug along his books to school, and a scrap of oatmeal for his dinner, with a pair of brogues on his feet, posteriors exposed, and nothing on his legs.” But the family soon removed, for cheapness’ sake, to Comlongan, in Dumfriesshire, and Mr. William was boarded with a master at Perth. There exists an account of moneys expended on the boy, whereby it appears that a pair of boots for Mr. William cost £3 12s. Scots, and the cutting of his hair six shillings.
At fourteen arose the difficult question of his profession. It was proposed to send him to St. Andrews; again, the Scots bar was thought of; but the advice of his elder brother prevailed, and he was put upon the foundation of Westminster School. This James Murray was in every way a remarkable man. Originally a Scots lawyer, he had entered the House of Commons as member for the Elgin burghs, and immediately joined the High Tory party of Atterbury and Bolingbroke. At Queen Anne’s death he openly went over to the Stuarts, and lived for the rest of his long life as an outlaw, abroad. His master made him Earl of Dunbar, and he seems never to have wavered in his loyalty to the forlorn cause. He is said to have been at least as able as his younger brother, but in the petty intrigues of St. Germain and Avignon he found no field for his talents. His advice, so fortunate in its issue, had probably a purpose, for Westminster under Atterbury could be no bad training ground for a possible Jacobite recruit. At any rate, the boy gladly fell in with his plan. He did not take either of the orthodox routes to the south, by a smack from Leith or the weekly coach from the Black Bull in the Canongate to St. Martin’s le Grand, but set out for Perth on horseback, on the 15th of March, 1718. At Queensferry the horse fell lame, and he had to walk into Edinburgh, where he bought his outfit. He visited his parents at Comlongan, and then, like Gil Bias, set off on his country-bred pony for the new world. It was a strange experience for the Perthshire boy, whose horizon had been bounded by the Edinburgh High Street and Mr. Martine’s Academy. The Bridge of Esk was his last sight of Scotland, for the lonely child who stared at the fortifications of Carlisle, and fancied London to be a compound of Rome and the New Jerusalem, was to make the strange country his own, and in a little time to control its destinies.
A certain John Wemyss, an old retainer of the Murrays, and now a flourishing apothecary, received the’traveler, sold his mount, bought him a sword, two wigs, and proper clothes, entered him with the head master of Westminster, and settled him at a dame’s in Dean Yard. Little is told of his schooldays. By dint of hot blood and a hard fist he fought his way to some standing among his schoolfellows. But he was always the industrious apprentice, working hard at his books, and excelling, we are told, in his declamations. Dr. Nicholl was his teacher, and Samuel Wesley, a brother of the great John, was an usher in the place. Atterbury, Bishop Smalridge, and Bentley used to examine the school at elections, and seem to have been taken with the young Murray. At any rate, in May, 1723, his name appears first on the list of King’s scholars who were recommended for the foundation at Christ Church. Of his holidays we know little, save that his kinswoman, Lady Kinnoull, used to invite him to her house, and doubtless there were other Scots families who showed kindness to the handsome boy.
From Westminster he went to Oxford, the Oxford of the eighteenth century, a curious backwater of learning, where Robert Boyle was held a fine scholar and Bentley a charlatan, and the real business of life was port and prejudice in the common rooms, and, for undergraduates, high politics in the taverns. It would welcome gladly a young man of good Jacobite stock, the protégé of Atterbury and the brother of Dunbar. But it is to Murray’s credit that he was wise enough to keep the place at arm’s length, for eighteenth-century Oxford was not a promising school for a strenuous man. He had the advantage of a clear aim, for about this time he finally chose the bar for his profession. Once he had thought of the Church; but when he heard Talbot and Yorke in Westminster Hall, he felt, in the quaint Scots phrase, “ called ” to the vocation. So, with the aid of the rich Lord Foley, he entered himself at Lincoln’s Inn, and began to keep his terms while still at Christ Church. For the rest, he lived like any other young man of quality, — a little more studious, considerably poorer, but no recluse, and certainly no pedant. He professed liberal sentiments, like Lord Magnus Charters in Pendennis,and patronized the Dissenters in the most approved fashion of the High Tory, who hated parochial Whiggery. His chief studies, we are told, were Aristotle and oratory, and the labors he went through to learn the theory of his future art fill a slack modern with despair. Not Demosthenes with his mouthful of pebbles was more painstaking than this boy, who translated Cicero into English, and back again into Latin, that he might get at the heart of his cadences. He wrote Latin prose with great ease and elegance, though his excursions in hexameters are as bad as may be. He won the prize for a poem on the death of George I., that calls the Muse to refuse no tribute to the wondrous worth, and Minerva and Phœbus to strew olive and laurel on the bier, of the cultured monarch whose simple creed was, “ I hate all boets and bainters.” Pitt was his disappointed rival, and it is only fair to say that Pitt was, if possible, more absurd. Indeed, the only merit of the productions is that they have given occasion for some of Macaulay’s neatest sentences. “ The Muses are earnestly entreated to weep over the urn of Caesar ; for Caesar, says the poet, loved the Muses. Caesar, who would not read a line of Pope, and who loved nothing but punch and fat women ! ”
When he came to London, he took up his abode in a set of rooms in the Gatehouse Court of Lincoln’s Inn, which is now called Old Square. For three years he studied the law in his upper chamber, lighting his own fire of a morning; but keeping his evenings for his friends and the other side of life. It was the age of great taverns, where busy men went for good talk and a good dinner: Button’s, where Addison dined, and sat late over his punch; the Mitre, where Boswell met Johnson ; not to speak of Will’s and the Grecian, the Covent Garden chop houses, the ordinaries in the city, and the superior clubs of St. James’s. The Temple was then the intellectual centre of London ; not, as now, a bare place, too far east for convenience, and hedged round and about with commerce. Great men had their rooms in the little streets off the Strand; Lincoln’s Inn Fields was a superb and fashionable square, containing Betterton’s theatre and the Duke of Newcastle’s town house ; and, if the Embankment was a vile place, the Surrey shore was still unspoiled. The young Oxford scholar found himself in the thick of a very fascinating life. He had his severe hours of study, for he had the sense to revere his profession. There were no short cuts to legal knowledge, no textbooks or pupil rooms, and the common law was still imprisoned in a desert of black-letter learning. Murray planned out an elaborate course for himself in Roman law, international law, Scots law, real property; but at the same time he was diligently at work on other things, as is shown by the extraordinary scheme of historical studies which he drew up for the young Duke of Portland. He took a short trip to the Continent, but he had no money to make the grand tour with which certain biographers have credited him. He could not afford to dispense with his industrious mornings, but must seek his pleasure in quieter paths. Through his kinsmen and friends, the Kinnoulls and Marchmonts, he made his entry into polite society. Well-mannered, wellborn, with some Oxford reputation, and, as we are told, a very handsome and modest presence, he was welcomed by the little lords and great ladies who made up the fashion of the day. “ Lord Mansfield,” Dr. Johnson once declared, “ was no mere lawyer. Lord Mansfield was distinguished at the university ; when he first came to town, he drank champagne with the wits; he was the friend of Pope.”
Pope, indeed, he had known at Westminster, and between the two a warm friendship sprang up. To Pope, the young Scot, with his good looks and 舠 silver voice,” his talents and his frank hero worship, came as a relief from the oppressive smartness of the coffee houses. It was no one-sided attachment: if Murray went to Twickenham, Pope came to Lincoln’s Inn, and, as the story goes, used to coach his friend in the gestures of oratory. When Murray was called to the bar, in 1730, he took chambers at No. 5 King’s Bench Walk, and there Pope was a constant visitor. The young barrister was no better off than others before and since. For two years he did nothing ; then he began to acquire some practice in Scots appeals, but his name was “ known and honored in the House of Lords ” when he was as little seen in the Chancery and King’s Bench as, say, a minor parliamentary junior of today. The ordinary myth is told of him as of every great lawyer, — no practice, a chance brief, absence of his leader, a great opportunity, and then a boundless income ; and he is reported to have said, in his old age, that he “ never knew the difference between poverty and £3000 a year.” The record of his practice, however, shows a slow and gradual advance ; there is no sudden dazzling leap, like Erskine’s, into fame; and in three years, if he had a fair business, it was very restricted in kind. But those early years were full of varied activity. He worked hard at his profession ; he read widely ; he saw much society. He had the common Scots admiration for French writers, notably Voltaire, and to the end of his life he kept up a considerable scholarship in the sister literature. And in all his busyness there is a pleasing affection for his kinsfolk and his own land. His first earnings went to buy a tea service of silver and china for his sister-in-law, Lady Stormont, who had been in the habit of .sending him Scotch marmalade ; and in his speech against the disfranchisement of Edinburgh, after the Porteous Riots, there is a ring of something more than vicarious forensic earnestness.
Sometime in those years he committed the indiscretion of falling in love. Some have identified the lady with Lord Winchelsea’s daughter, Lady Elizabeth Finch, whom he afterwards married, and supposed that her family insisted only upon the postponement of the wedding till his fee book grew larger. I find it difficult to accept this view. Rather it seems to have been the one grand passion which Murray’s equable nature ever entertained, and it ended disastrously with the lady’s marriage to “ lands in Kent and messuages in York,” and, for a time, the lover’s utter prostration. One summer was lost to him, and he retired to a small cottage on the river, near Twickenham, to brood over the foppery of the world. It was not till the next Michaelmas term that he forgot his disappointment in his profession. One would give much to learn Chloe’s name, for no common charms could have overthrown so cold and placid a heart. Pope acted the part of the philosophic comforter, and, in imitation of Horace’s “ Intermissa, Venus, diu,” implores the goddess to send her doves to No. 5 King’s Bench Walk, and bids the “ smiling loves and young desires ” haunt the suburban cottage. Murray is
To charm the mistress or to fix the friend.”
I do not suppose that the mythological consolation went far, for the object had notably failed to charm one mistress ; but in an imitation of the famous “ Nil admirari ” Epistle there are some manly and comforting lines on his friend’s case. The poet discourses on the vanity of human wishes : —
To see their judgments hang upon thy voice ;
From morn to night, at Senate, Rolls, and Hall,
Plead much, read more, dine late or not at all.
But wherefore all this labour, all this strife
For fame, for riches, for a noble wife ?
Shall one whom native learning, birth conspired
To form not to admire but be admired,
Sigh while his Chloe, blind to wit and worth,
Weds the rich dulness of some son of earth ! ”
It is the old consolation of philosophy, and the patient in time recovered. Still, we should like to know the truth of Murray’s one romance, and the name of the girl who conquered his austere heart. Did she become one of the hooped and powdered ladies of fashion, or was she learned like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, or did she sink into a country shrew like Mrs. Hardcastle ? “ Discord” and
“ a noble wife,” as in Addison’s case, were too often synonyms, and certainly there was no discord with the amiable Lady Elizabeth.
His profession drove love out of his head, for he found himself in many notable cases, from some of which the scandal has scarcely yet departed. Such was the Cibber case, where a fashionable actress, wife of Colley Cibber’s son, and sister of Dr. Arne, the musician, paid the price of her gallantries. He was counsel for the English merchants in the famous affair of Captain Jenkins’s case, and he may have suggested to that perjured mariner the phrase which set England aflame, “ I recommended my soul to God, and my cause to my country.” He declined silk, when Lord Hardwicke, at the Duke of Newcastle’s instance, made him the offer, and so he won the distinction of going direct from the junior bar to office. In all he had a full and pleasing life : Chancery in the morning, the House of Lords in the afternoon ; and then running from the courts to routs and supper parties, and returning late to find some client like the Duchess Sarah sitting in his armchair, “ swearing so dreadfully,” said his clerk, “ that she must be a lady of quality.” On the 20th of November, 1738, he married his Lady Elizabeth, gaining the double benefit of an exemplary wife and a father-in-law in the Cabinet. They took a house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, that fashionable neighborhood, and began to entertain. And with it all the busy counsel had leisure for common human courtesies. He would write long and kind epistles to his friends in Scotland, Grant of Prestongrange and Lord Milton, and there is a very admirable letter of consolation to one Mr. Booth, an unsuccessful conveyancer.
In 1742, after resisting all unofficial invitations to politics, he was made solicitor-general, and soon afterward entered Parliament for Boroughbridge. At the same time, at a meeting of the council of Lincoln’s Inn, it was ordered that “ the Hon. William Murray Esquire, His Majesty’s Solicitor-General, be invited to the Bench of this Society.” He was now thirty-seven years of age, his character formed, his future assured. It is safe to say that the Mansfield we know was the Murray who became Mr. Solicitor. In a sense he came to perfection early ; for, if his fame rests on the work of his mature years, the conditions of fame had already been prepared to the full. So we may leave an awkward chronological narrative for a study of the man, the finished product, in his many aspects. But we may note, in passing, that the years of his elevation saw the last of that brilliant figure who had been the friend of his youth. Pope died in 1744, having appointed Murray his executor, and leaving him as remembrances two marble heads and a picture for his own trust. A few days before his death he had been carried, at his own request, from Twickenham to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and Bolingbroke and Warburton had been of the company. A curious dinner party indeed, — a young lawyer with his life before him, a pragmatic doctor, a genius who had proved too clever for the world, and a worn-out poet!
The attorney-generalship was reached in 1754, and two years later came the chief-justiceship of the King’s Bench and a peerage. He might have had the woolsack several times for the asking, and on at least one occasion a word would have made him Prime Minister. But he had the wisdom to gauge his powers well; he knew himself born for a good judge, but as signally unfit for a great minister. Not that he did not take his full share of politics. Few lawyers have been so prominent as statesmen ; as solicitor, he virtually led the House of Commons for twelve years, he sat in many Cabinets, and he was pitted against Chatham in the Lords as the most formidable of the Tories. But he was never the professional statesman ; merely a great judge with a talent for statecraft, who came for relaxation from the bench to the senate house. We do not propose to attempt to do justice to his judicial work, in these pages. Sufficient that he introduced a new spirit into English law, and broke, once and for all, the old black-letter chain which Coke had riveted. It became the fashion among his successors, as it was certainly the fashion among his weaker rivals, to declare that, like necessity, he knew no law, and that he introduced an evil experimental habit into the profession ; and the great name of Lord Eldon has lent itself to the charge. We do not deny the habit. His advice to a colonial governor — “ Give no reason for your decisions, for they are sure to be right, while your reasons are sure to be wrong ” — was an index to a consistent habit of mind. He strove to the best of his power to do away with the forms which hampered justice, and it is small wonder if the mild black beetles of the courts hated him, when they found their occupation gone. We are told that he would lie back in his chair yawning, or write letters, or read the newspaper, when some confused serjeant prosed before him. On occasions, to be sure, when policy or humanity demanded it, he could be formal and technical enough, as in his judgment in the Wilkes case, or in his curious direction to the jury in the case of a priest accused of celebrating mass. But generally he strove after simplicity and common sense, interpreting the letter of the law with a freedom and fairness uncommon among his contemporaries. A list of his decisions would be meaningless, but we are told that he so impressed his colleagues that there was rarely a dissenting voice. Two branches of his work deserve special mention. He took the principal part in the disposing of Scotch appeals in the Lords, and in the Duntreath case he “ struck off the fetters of half the entailed estates in Scotland.” In commercial cases, again, he found a field awaiting the hand of the reformer, and by his judgments in the Guildhall sittings he created English commercial law, and conferred an incalculable benefit on English trade. And all his work —such is the report of his contemporaries — he did with that masterful ease which is the industrious lawyer’s chief reward. To have a branch of knowledge which in no way fills the whole of life or infringes upon pleasure, yet at the same time grows daily in bulk, till the law is no formless bludgeon, but a keen sword in a ready hand, is the final triumph of the profession. Of this Mansfield is a conspicuous instance, and what has been said of Weir of Hermiston may be written of him : “ He tasted deeply of recondite pleasures. To be wholly devoted to some intellectual exercise is to have succeeded in life; and perhaps only in law and the higher mathematics may this devotion be maintained, suffice to itself without reaction, and find continual rewards without excitement.”
On the legal side we have the materials for judgment, but on his wit and scholarship we must take our opinions from others. Nothing is so tantalizing, and yet so permanent, as a reputation for esprit. Every one believes Charles Townshend a wit of the first order, and yet we have scarcely a saying of his on record. We do not suppose Mansfield to have been a classical scholar of the stamp of Carteret, but he had the respectable stock in trade of an industrious Oxford man ; and we are told that once, in his extreme old age, he defended the use of a Greek word in Burke by quoting offhand a long passage from Demosthenes. In history, on the other hand, and especially in the history of law, few of his contemporaries approached him. Burke had the same synoptic view, the same catholic breadth of knowledge, but Mansfield had the more exact and critical scholarship. Had the law treatises, memoirs, and essays, which perished in the Gordon Riots, survived till our own day, he might have shared with Bacon the fame of a great lawyer who was also a great writer.
Cowper sang; and we desire to mourn with the ages. He was not a patron in the eighteenth-century sense, and his name adorns the dedicatory pages of no minor poet, but he has the supreme merit of discovering Blaekstone. It was at his advice that Blaekstone settled in Oxford, and the Vincrian Professorship, and indirectly the Commentaries, were the result. So much for learning. But there is also a tradition of extraordinary wit and vivacity in conversation, a social tact which made him the finest of hosts and the most engaging companion. It is possible that the tradition has been overdone. Seward, who has a scent like Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff’s for any sort of mot, has only a few flimsy jokes to record, and Horace Walpole, who was ever tender to a hint of brilliance, will have none of Mansfield’s. In contrasting him with Fox and Pitt, Walpole declares that they had wit in their speeches, though not in conversation, but Murray neither in one nor the other. We find a few sayings in court quoted, wonderfully few, and by no means good, of which the best is the advice to a counsel: “ No case, abuse plaintiff’s attorney.” Perhaps he was too fluent and copious for the parsimony of language which is the basis of wit. But the word has many meanings, and if grace of manner and an extraordinary knowledge of men be a form of it, then Mansfield had it in abundance. His courtesy and ready kindness delighted the world, and contemporary memoirs (except Horace Walpole’s) abound in praises of the lord chief justice in society. He had the freshness of spirit which men of his balanced and capable type carry often far into old age, and his favorite toast of 舠 Young Friends and Old Books ” is an epitome of his art of life.
From Lincoln’s Inn Fields the family moved to a great house in Bloomsbury Square, of which more hereafter. About the same time they seem to have bought the charming little estate of Caen Wood, on the slopes of Highgate, and there, after his retirement from the King’s Bench, Mansfield spent his days. Only in these mellow autumn years have we any picture of the man at home. Before that he is a brilliant figure, much hated and widely feared, but in the purple and splendor of his public appearances we lose sight of one aspect, and that the most pleasing. He was very clannish, like all his countrymen, and when the little Murrays, Lord Henderland’s children, came to Westminster School, he would have them out to Highgate on holidays, and tell them old stories of his boyhood, — how he had seen a man who had been at the execution of Charles I., and how at school he had boiled a plum pudding in his nightcap. He took immense pains to have his peerage given the proper remainder, for he had a Scots pride in founding a great family. But if he had a warm heart for his family, he had also a long memory for his friends. Lord Foley had been kind to him at Oxford, and so, when a rising junior and a young man much sought after in society, he used continually to isolate himself, from Saturday to Monday, in the company of the old nobleman, who had become very fussy and exacting. Once he was asked the reason of it all. “ It is enough,” he replied, “ if I contribute by my visits to the entertainment of my fast friends.” At Caen Wood he had often parties of King’s Bench lawyers down for the day, who would tell him the gossip of the courts and Lord Kenyon’s latest misquotation, while he would recite passages from Pope, or take their advice on landscape gardening, or repeat to them, under his beech trees, —
He had always looked forward to this old age of leisure; for we are told that when in the thick of his work he used to talk of the dolce far niente, and quote, “ Liber esse mihi non videtur, qui non aliquando nihil agit.” His dinners became famous in the town. Abstemious himself, — his only love was claret, and Heaven knows how many hogsheads of priceless claret perished in the Bloomsbury fire ! — he yet, like many temperate men, loved hilarity. His eulogists dilate on the charm of his conversation. “ He was ever as ready to hear as to deliver an opinion,” says one. “ I cannot recollect the time,” says another, “ when, sitting at table with Lord Mansfield, I ever failed to remark that happy and engaging art which he possessed of putting the company in a good humor with themselves. I am convinced that they liked him the more for his seeming to like them so well.” And then they conclude, one and all, with that quaint eighteenth-century phrase which means so much, “ He was a sincere Christian, without bigotry or hypocrisy.”
Much of this, to be sure, was due to endowments which are not necessarily Christian, — his voice and his superb presence. From the Vanloo, painted when he was twenty-eight, to the great Reynolds, which represents him in the robes of the chief justice, we see through his numerous portraits a wonderful majesty of face. As Reynolds saw him, in his regal old age, the bench can have witnessed no nobler figure of a man. If race means anything, it is here in its perfection. The arch of the brows, the keen, invincible eyes, the leonine cast of the head, and, above all, the mouth, tart, humorous, infinitely wise, make the figure a kind of archetype, the Lord Chief Justice for all time. And his voice matched with his presence. By all accounts, it was singularly clear and sweet and penetrating, with the liquid, silvery tone found in some women’s voices. He spoke with great slowness and distinctness, giving each syllable its full quality, but it is pleasant to learn that to the last he pronounced some words broadly, more Boreali. It was right that Westminster and Oxford should not wholly drive out the old idiom of the Perth grammar school. He said “brid” for “bread,” we are told, and “reg’ment ” for “regiment,” and he would always call upon “ Mr. Soleester.” This was displeasing to a purist like Chief Justice Willes, whose attack upon Mansfield’s voice is curious in its isolation. “ He was cursed,” he wrote, “ with a loud, clamorous monotony, and a disagreeable discordance in his accents, as struck so harsh upon the ear that he seemed rather to scream than to plead ; and from thence was called ‘ Orator Strix ’ or the ‘ Caledonian Screecher.’ ” But Dr. Johnson, who did not love a Scots accent, having many odd pronunciations of his own, was captivated by his “ sweetness,” and the testimony of the world gave him the epithet of “ silver-tongued,” as it afterwards gave it to Erskine.
But the real man behind all this external charm is the true object of interest. His character and intellect were so fully revealed during his long career that there is small divergence in men’s judgments. Certain broad qualities are universally granted, certain obvious faults censured. But the common portrait does not hang together, and dogma is easily answered by an appeal to fact. The truth is that he is a more puzzling figure than the world will readily admit. Men love a garish, high-colored sketch, and history, generally speaking, is intolerant of niceties. We are told that Mansfield subordinated all things to personal ambition ; that he lost in heart what he gained in intellect; that he had no moral courage ; that he was the polished, capable man of the world, a high product of a bloodless age. Such a criticism deserves a word ; for though it has truth it needs much explanation, and taken baldly it leads to an estimate which is radically unjust. “ The condemnation which a great man lays upon the world,” Hegel has written, “is to force it to explain him ; ” and the saying is true of others than the philosopher.
The common accusation is that he was without moral courage, a sun worshiper who frankly loved the easy path and the sweet things of life. It is impossible wholly to deny the charge; but the cowardice was an intricate quality, curiously bound up with his virtues. Certain antagonisms were so hateful to him that he shrank from open conflict. The Junius affair is a case in point. The master of invective who used the bludgeon was an opponent difficult to meet for one whose weapon was the rapier. In the libel actions he maintained honestly a real point of view, but he was obviously ill at ease, and in the altercation with Lord Camden which followed he seems to have deserved Horace Walpole’s abuse. Unpopularity, so long as it was confined to paper and spoken words, seems to have given him acute uneasiness, and he was apt to make an unworthy peace with his adversary. Camden, who was far from his intellectual equal, won several victories in debate from this curious sensitive complaisance of his rival. Sometimes it would seem that he felt himself standing on a razor edge, his early Jacobitism, his Scots birth, his professional hauteur, raising a host against him ; and then he was apt to agree with his enemy quickly, to the delight of the baser sort. On the other hand, he could on occasions show himself independent enough. On the bench he might often have won an easy popularity, but he remained true to his own ideals of equity and toleration. He was for religious equality, when it was the most forlorn of causes ; and if he was a loyal Tory, he could speak against his party and his interest. In 1766 he attacked the Prerogative on the question of the Order in Council which laid an embargo on corn, though his primary motive may have been his lawyer’s constitutionalism ; but in 1770 he was the chief agent in carrying George Grenville’s Controverted Elections Bill, which from the High Tory point of view was a piece of unleavened radicalism. The truth is that he paid the penalty of the affection of his friends. A hatred of the unpleasant, a love for easy ways, grew upon him till it became second nature, and the cause must be urgent indeed before it could wake his conscience.
But of one side of courage he had more than his share. By universal consent he was perfectly cool and fearless in the presence of physical danger. In the deplorable affair of the Gordon Riots, his is one of the few characters which emerge with any credit. He had shown himself an unflinching foe of the intolerable rant which sometimes calls itself Protestant, and when he arrived in Parliament Street, on that fateful day, he was recognized and attacked by the mob. His coachman managed to force his way to the door of the house, but the carriage windows were shivered, and Mansfield’s gown and wig were almost pulled to pieces. Thurlow was ill, and Mansfield took his place on the woolsack, “ with calm dignity,” says Lord Campbell ; “ quivering like an aspen,” the Duke of Gloucester told Horace Walpole. It would have been difficult for an old man who had just escaped murder to show an untroubled face, however stout his heart might be. The scene must have been the most curious which a Speaker of the House of Lords ever beheld : Lord Hillborough and Lord Stormont with black eyes, the Archbishop of York with his lawn sleeves gone, the Duke of Newcastle in rags, and most of the others with mud-bespattered faces and wigs awry, and all crying out twenty different words of advice; and then the sudden entry of Lord Mountfort, with a face like a ghost, and the report that Lord Boston was even then being torn in pieces. Mansfield did his best to restore order and proceed with the business of the day; but when the Duke of Richmond proposed a sortie he was ready to go first, carrying the mace. At the end of the sitting he was left alone, and we are told that, after drinking tea in his private room, he drove quietly home in a momentary lull of the riot.
On Tuesday, the 6th of June, 1780, the mob attacked the house in Bloomsbury Square. He had received warning, but in a spirit of commendable tolerance he refused to have soldiers keeping guard round his door, lest the passions of the crowd should be more seriously inflamed. He trusted to the reverence traditionally shown to the English justices ; but he had underrated Protestant zeal. When the rioters battered at his door, he escaped with his wife by a back passage. Then, for a little, anarchy was triumphant. Books, pictures, and furniture were burned in a bonfire on the pavement ; the cellars were pillaged, and the miscreants grew drunk on the chief justice’s claret; soon the flames reached the house, and in the morning nothing remained but a blackened shell. It is impossible to overestimate the gravity of the misfortune to a man of Mansfield’s nature. He had taken much pride in his career, and he had filled his house with remembrances. But now his own diaries, the books in which Pope and Bolin gbroke had written their names, his pictures, busts, and prints, his rare and curious furniture, all had perished utterly. He had founded a family, but the heirlooms were gone which he had hoped to hand down to posterity. To one so tenderly attached to his past, it must have seemed as if he stood again bare and isolated in the world, beggared of the fruits of his life’s work. The town sympathized with his misfortune, and for once there is no word spoken on his conduct but the highest praise. When he took his seat on the bench, he was received, we are told, “ with a reverential silence more affecting than the most eloquent address.” He rejected with dignity all proposals of compensation, and when he presided at the trial of Lord George Gordon he showed not a trace of prejudice or resentment. Once only he referred indirectly to his loss. He defended the strong measures taken by the government in quelling the riots. “ I will give you my reasons within as short a compass as possible. I have not consulted books ; indeed, I have no books to consult.”
His intellect was so many-sided and masterful that his contemporaries, in trying to describe it, fell into a conventional grandiloquence. Indeed, it is no case for superlatives. He had no talent in a colossal degree ; but he had all, or nearly all, in some proportion, and the whole was harmoniously compounded. His mind was clear and penetrating ; all faculties at his command for use, and none blunted by years or routine. He attained to that perfect consciousness of power and ready facility which is the highest pleasure in life. For all his industry and his learning, there is never a hint of stress about him. After a long day in the courts, he turns to Horace or De Thou or the salons of St. James’s with an unfailing alacrity of spirit. Nimble, keen, subtle, unwearied, — if these be not characteristic of supreme genius, they at least denote a perfect talent. It is the perfection of the legal talent, a lawyer being rather an interpreter than a leader ; mediocrity, if you like, but of the aurea mediocritas stamp. His principles and opinions illustrate the curious equipoise of his character. He had an inherited Tory strain, which appeared in the generous Jacobitism of his youth, and was matured into the constitutionalism which detested the vagaries of Chatham, and saw in the French Revolution the last word of anarchy. But he had a kind of political rationalism, which led him sometimes to the most pronounced liberal views, and made him the foe of religious disabilities and the advocate of free trade. A little of the Bute type of High Tory, a little of the French intellectuel, and something of the enlightened critical man of affairs made up his political character. As a biographer neatly puts it, Precedent and Principle were always at war within him. He had much kinship with one side of the Whigs, and no real affinity with the reactionary and corrupt elements in his own party. But for the demagogues who followed Wilkes he had all the scorn of a scholar and an aristocrat. To him the voice of the people was an unintelligible patois, and not to be identified with the voice of God. It is not hard to explain the various antipathies which he created. Walpole hated him as a clever alien who had no part in the Whig family circle. Chatham found him a formalist too able to despise and too logical to refute. But to men so different as Montesquieu and Burke he seemed wholly admirable, — the founder of scientific jurisprudence, a scholar among pedants. On one subject all our authorities agree,—his extraordinary eloquence. Horace Walpole is frankly eulogistic. He compares him with Chatham and the elder Fox, and calls him “ the brightest genius of the three,” whose figure was “ engaging, from a decent openness.” His own criticism is that he “ refined too much, and could wrangle too little, for a popular assembly.” It is hard to realize the proper effect of eighteenth-century oratory. We have lost the atmosphere of pageant and ceremony, of scholarship and abundant leisure. In reading Mansfield’s great speeches, we find neither the fire and passion and broken lights of imagination which we have in Chatham, nor the cosmic philosophy of Burke, nor the exquisite terseness and epigram of Disraeli. His style is bland and placid, like the man ; but the matter is always impressive, and there is much to admire in the lithe vigor and ease of the diction. We can readily understand how, spoken by one of his voice and presence, it seemed the height of eloquence to an older school which thought Chatham a play actor and Burke an Irish madman.
And so his character stands as something polished and complete, the “ four square man ” that Simonides spoke of. But this perfection, if it has few flaws, has its limitations, as his enemies were ready to perceive. The chief charge is the expected one of a radical coldness of heart. Here, again, while admitting truth in the accusation, we must protest against the ordinary acceptation of the word. He could be very kind, and he could form the warmest friendships ; and if any one doubts this, let him read his correspondence in 1782 with the Bishop of Bristol, when the two old men, friends from youth, console each other for the loneliness of age. He was as well beloved by young men, as his relations with Erskine bear witness. The great instance cited against him is his conduct on that memorable day when Chatham fell dying on the floor of the House of Lords. The incident is told in a letter of Lord Camden to the Duke of Grafton : “ Many crowding about the earl to observe his countenance, all affected, most part really concerned ; and even those who might have felt a secret pleasure at the accident yet put on the appearance of distress, excepting the Earl of M., who sat still, almost as much unmoved as the senseless body itself.” Now who was this “ Earl of M.” ? It has been generally held to refer to Mansfield, but Lord Brougham insisted that it was Lord Marchmont. Marchmont was the only other Earl of M. present; he belonged to the straitest sect of the “ King’s friends,” and he had always been in opposition to Chatham. It is impossible to decide the question, but on the most favorable interpretation there is a lack of generosity in Mansfield’s conduct; for when the question of the annuity to the Chatham title came before the Lords, he listened to the virulent attacks of the court party in silence, and uttered no word in praise of his dead rival.
This antagonism of the two was a conflict of permanent types, and the most significant commentary on Mansfield’s limitations. The one, with all his highheeled strutting and histrionic stuff, had just that generous warmth of feeling and that sudden lightning fire of genius which were foreign, and indeed incomprehensible, to the bland and capable intelligence of the other. Mansfield was the safer captain for ordinary weather, but Chatham the pilot for the storm. The one was a great and brilliant man of affairs, while the other was the fiery spirit fighting its way in crudeness and hysteria and splendor to a kind of immortality. He discovered the “ great people ” behind the fanatics and the placemen, and he worked for his clientele. But Mansfield was essentially the creation of a social sect, a highly accomplished product of a highly civilized world, one with “ no strife nor no sedition in his powers,” and secure and happy in this tranquillity.
He is, indeed, the most un-northern of all great Scots ; for, compared to him, Hume was perfervid, and Dundas an enthusiast. He suffered, in fact, for his birthplace ; for he was attacked by the press as a “termagant Scot,” who had “ emerged from his native wealds, rocky caverns, and mountainous heights pretty early in life, to veneer over a Scotch education with a little English erudition.” The critic talks of his nature as “ rugged and full of pauper pride and native insolence,” which Heaven knows it never was. Lovat had foreseen this danger ahead of “ his cousin Murray.” “ Mr. Solicitor,” he said at the trial, “ is a great man, and he will meet with high promotion if he is not too far north.” But Mr. Solicitor was not to be seriously retarded by his origin, for, compared with Lovat, he was a southron of the southrons. Except for a suspicion of an accent, he might never have ventured beyond the world of St. James’s. The trial of Lovat has, indeed, a curious interest ; for if Chatham was Mansfield’s extreme opposite in temperament, Lovat was his counterpart in racial character. Shaggy, barbarous, steeped in vices, and yet with a wild subtlety and poetry in his extraordinary brain, he was the type of the back world of Scotland, — that old, cruel, foolish world of mists and blood, of crazy beliefs and impossible loyalties. The splendid chief justice knew nothing of it, and in this ignorance he gained success, but lost an indefinable something which his birth should have given him ; for we must confess that he was a little insensible to the warmth of common humanity. From the day when he rode his shelty over the Bridge of Esk he never returned to his own country. He never saw his parents again ; he never seemed to care to revisit the home of his boyhood. Lord Campbell, in a passage which makes one respect the honest soul, dwells on the pathos and joys of such a home-coming, and quotes Captain Morris’s lines : —
And many a lass grown old.”
But to Mansfield all this was a sealed book. Somewhere in the race for honors he had lost this old sentiment, though he retained his family pride and a lingering affection for his race. It is scarcely a defect, but it is part of his great limitation, which we may call a lack of soul. Heartless he was not, for he was kind above the average, but in his very freedom from the prejudices of the crowd he fell short of the prejudice which is also wisdom. It is the old complaint against the entirely rational and clear-sighted man that, in his unbroken march, he misses the wayside virtues which fall to the blind and feeble.