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Esq, but was shortly afterwards appointed principal of New Inn Hall, Oxford; the emoluments of which, fully compensated for the loss of the former situation. In 1763, he was appointed solicitor-general to the queen, and made a bencher of the Inner Temple; resigned his Vinerian professorship, in 1766; and, in 1768, was returned member of parliament for Westbury, in Wiltshire. In 1770, he published the whole of his Commentaries on the Laws of England, in four volumes; and, in the same year, declining the post of solicitor-general, was made a judge of the Common Pleas, where he continued to preside until the period of his death, which occurred in February, 1780.
The fame of Sir William Blackstone rests chiefly on his Commentaries, which has gone through fourteen editions with increasing popularity. The work, however, is by no means so influential as formerly; and the narrow doctrines of the author in support of established prejudices, and his antitoleration notions, which were exposed and attacked by Dr. Priestley, are now, for the most part, acknowledged. A high tone of independence, nevertheless, in favour of the subject, is occasionally to be found in the work, although Sir William considerably diminished his merit on that score, by delivering, in the house of commons, an opinion directly at variance with what he had written on a similar point. This was during the discussion as to the eligibility of Mr. Wilkes to be re-elected to parliament after his expulsion thence, when Blackstone advocated the negative in an argument which confuted his previous declarations, and drew upon him the resentment of Junius, who spoke of "the honours he had lost, and the virtues he had degraded," by this step. His Commentaries are, however, on the whole, a most valuable and praiseworthy production, and justly` merit
the eulogies they have received; but the most accurate view seems to have been taken of them by Sir William Jones, who observes, "they are the most correct and beautiful outline that was exhibited in any human science; but they alone will no more form a lawyer, than a general map of the world, however accurately and elegantly it may be delineated, will make a geographer." In addition to the publications already mentioned, Sir William Blackstone' wrote two pieces connected with the Oxford University; a Treatise on the Law of Descents in Fee-Simple; a few fugitive poems; and two volumes of Reports, which appeared after his death. He also contributed to Mr. Malone some notes on Shakspeare, and wrote a defence of Addison, which is inserted in the life of that poet, in the second edition of the life of the Biographia Britannica.
In his character of judge and politician, Sir William was more attentive and intelligent than vigorous and conspicuous. He was unambitious of legal preferment, and had a great aversion to the senate," where," he used to say, "amid the rage of contending parties, a man of moderation must expect to meet with no quarter from either side." In private life, he was mild, amiable, and unostentatious; and, notwithstanding his contracted brow, which he is said to have acquired from being near sighted, was a cheerful and even facetious companion. He never lost his early predilection for architecture, and, during the latter part of his life, made it subservient to the improvement of the neighbourhood around him, as well as to his own amusement. He left seven children; and, about four years after his death, his arms were painted in the window of the chapel of All Soul's College, and a statue of him, by Bacon, was placed in their hall.
SIR DAVID RAE.
THIS eminent legal character, the son of the Rev. William Rae, an episcopalian Scotch clergyman, was born in
1729. He received his early education at the grammar-school of Haddington, from whence he removed to the Univer
sity of Edinburgh, where he attended the law lectures of Professor John Erskine, and gave promise of future excellence. He was called to the Scotch bar in 1751; where, though without patronage or interest, he soon raised himself into note, and acquired considerable practice. The first great cause in which he distinguished himself was the noted one of James Drumond Macgregor, who was tried for the forcible abduction of a heiress, in 1752. In the following year, he was retained in an appeal, which brought him to London, where he became acquainted with, and the friend of, Charles Yorke, and his father, the Lord-chancellor Hardwicke. During this year, also, he visited Paris, and various parts of France; and, after passing through Germany and the Low Countries, returned to Scotland, and resumed his legal pursuits with increasing reputation and emolument.
In 1764, he went, in company with the late Lord Monboddo, as one of the commissioners to superintend, in France, the proofs taken of Mr. afterwards Lord, Douglas's birth, in the progress of the celebrated case between him and the Duke of Hamilton, and in which Mr. Rae was engaged till its settlement, in 1767. In 1770, he lost his wife; an event which caused him so much grief, that it was some time before he could resume his professional duties. He, however, soon became the leading counsel in the Scotch court of exchequer, which he maintained many years; and, in 1782, previously to which he had been urged
to adopt the English bar, by Lords Mansfield, Ashburton, and others, he was nominated a judge of the supreme civil court of Scotland, under the title of Lord Eskgrave, a name he derived from his elegant seat, near Edinburgh. In this station he gave such satisfaction, that, in 1785, he was appointed to succeed Lord Kennett in the high court of justiciary.
In the autumn of 1795, he presided at the trial of the celebrated Unitarian clergyman, Palmer, for a seditious libel, and for which he sentenced him to seven years' transportation; a sentence that was considered unnecessarily severe, and gained him a considerable share of popular odium. In 1799, he was raised to the dignity of presiding in the high court of justiciary; and, on the 27th of June, 1804, he was rewarded with a baronetcy, in which he was succeeded by his eldest son, the late Sir David Rae.
He is described as having been a man of the most amiable qualities, and beloved in all the private relations of society. His learning was considerable; and, besides writing a pamphlet to freeholders, he contributed many pieces to the periodicals of the day. He spoke with great logical precision and force of argument; was particularly distinguished, as a judge, for his clearness in summing up; and was known to all the principal members of the legal, literary, and scientific world, at many of whose houses he was a frequent guest. He married, in 1761, Margaret, daughter of John Stuart, Esq. of Blair Hall, by whom he had four children.
THIS eminently learned lawyer and eccentric man, born about the year 1731, was the descendant of an ancient family in Hounston, in the county of Somerset. After receiving a liberal education, he was entered as a student at one of the inns of court; and when called to the bar, had acquired a large stock of legal knowledge. No counsel of his time surpassed him in his
acquaintance with the various forms and practices of the courts; or was more ready in quoting precedents with facility and correctness. On the 6th of November, 1772, he was called to the dignity of a king's serjeant. He soon after married Miss Meddlicott, a lady of fortune in Northamptonshire, by whom he had two daughters; one of whom married the Honourable William
Cockayne, younger son of Charles, Viscount Cullen, of Donegal. It is related that, on the very day of his union, the serjeant, having an intricate law case in his mind, was obliged to be reminded that the time for the nuptial ceremony was approaching; and at the usual hour in the evening, he went to his books and papers, until called from them by his clerk, who suggested to him the remembrance of the recent ceremony in which he had been engaged. His general habits were equally tinctured with absence and eccentricity; for once, on a circuit, having occasion to cite a law authority, he referred to his bag, as usual, for the work, when, instead of Viney,' he, much to the amusement of the court, pulled out a plated specimen candlestick, belonging to a Birmingham commercial traveller, who had stopped at the same inn with Mr. Hill, and which, in a fit of absence, he had deposited by mistake in the bag containing his papers. On another occasion, being engaged in a cause at Leicester, which had already extended to his usual hour of repose, he, finding it impossible to quit the court, gravely rose, and, in an audible voice, desired his clerk to carry his compliments to Mrs. Hill, and express his sorrow that he could not sleep with her, as he was likely to be detained the whole night."
It is also related of him, that, during a vacation, when he was accustomed to retire to his seat at Rowell, in Northamptonshire, a fox, pursued by some neighbouring sportsmen, took shelter in the court yard of his residence. At
this moment, it is said, the serjeant was in the act of reading an ancient case, in which it was decided, in a trespass of the like kind, the owners of the ground had a right to inflict death on the intruder; and he, therefore, gave orders to his servants, that the fox, as an original trespasser, should be killed. The hunters having arrived at the spot, with the hounds in full cry, saw the object of their pursuit pinioned to the earth with pitchforks. On asking for the person who had thus deprived them of their prey, they were met by the serjeant himself, who informed them that the execution had taken place by legal authority.
He died, on the 21st of February, 1808, at his house in Bedford Square, respected by all who were acquainted with his character. Notwithstanding his eccentricities, Serjeant Hill was a most estimable man, and his private conduct was always regarded as unimpeachable. From youth he had been fond of literary pursuits; and, at Cambridge, was the especial favourite of the famous blind professor, Sanderson; who declared that, if he devoted himself to the study of them, he would be one of the greatest proficients in mathematics that the country had ever produced. His memory was retentive, his erudition deep, and he had a thorough knowledge of the English laws and constitution. He was an excellent classical scholar, though his reading had not been varied; as he aimed at understanding thoroughly a few authors, rather than at becoming superficially acquainted with the works of many.
JOHN DUNNING, LORD ASHBURTON.
JOHN DUNNING, the second son of an attorney, was born at Ashburton, in Devonshire, on the 18th of October, 1731. After having received an ordinary education at the free-school of his native town, he was articled to his father; but, at the termination of his clerkship, came to London, and studied for the bar. His means, in the metropolis, were but narrow; for having become acquainted with Horne Tooke
and Lord Kenyon, they are recorded, by the biographer of the former, to have dined together frequently, in the neighbourhood of Chancery Lane, at sevenpence halfpenny a head. Dunning attended the courts for some time with little success; but after six or seven years, attained some reputation in the northern circuit; and, about 1760, came into great practice, by the manner in which he drew up the defence of the
East India Company against the claims of the Dutch. His argument, however, against general warrants, as counsel for Wilkes, was the great stepping-stone to his fame and emolument, and brought him into universal notice, not only as an eloquent advocate, but as a sound constitutional lawyer.
In 1766, he was chosen recorder of Bristol; solicitor-general about a year afterwards; and, in 1768, was returned to parliament, through the influence of Lord Shelburne, as member for Calne, in Wiltshire. In 1770, he went out of office with his patron; and, on his first appearance in court, after that event, in his ordinary bar-gown, Lord Mansfield complimented him, by saying, "that, in consideration of the office he had held, and his high rank in business, he intended, for the future, to give him precedence next after the king's counsel, serjeants, and the recorder of London." About the same time, he was presented with the freedom of that city, in consequence of his having supported the petition and remonstrance of the citizens to the king, in a speech which, according to Mr. Roscoe, is said to have been one of the finest pieces of argument and eloquence ever heard in the house. He continued his parliamentary career with the same liberal sentiments with which he commenced it; particularly manifesting them in his opposition to the test act, and in his support of Sir George Saville's motion for an account of pensions granted by government. "It is no shame," he said, upon the latter occasion, "for persons nobly descended, when reduced to want, through the extravagance or vices of some of their ancestors, to receive bounty from the royal hand. I should be glad to see the list of pensioners made up of persons of that description; but truly, I suspect it abounds with persons of far less than even the negative merit of maiden ladies in circumstances of indigence." In speaking of the conduct of government towards America, which he condemned throughout, he observed, "We are now come to that fatal dilemma,-Resist, and we will cut your throats; submit, and we will tax you-such is the reward of obedience."
In 1782, on the formation of the administration under the Marquess of Rockingham, Mr. Fox, and Lord
Shelburne, he was called to the peerage, by the title of Lord Ashburton, and came into office as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. In the following year, his health began to decline; and his death, which was probably hastened through grief for the loss of one of his sons, took place on the 18th of August. A short while previously to his decease, he is said to have met, whilst travelling, the celebrated lawyer, Mr. Wallace, who died in the same year, and to have had an affecting interview with him. "For this purpose," says Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, they were carried into the same apartment, laid down on two sofas nearly opposite, and remained for a long time in conversation; they then parted, as men who could not hope to meet again in this world." Mr. Dunning had married, in 1780, a daughter of John Baring, Esq., of Larkbear, Devonshire, and was survived by his widow and one son.
Upon the whole, Lord Ashburton was a good and great man; few possessed a more estimable private character; and neither as a statesman nor a lawyer, was he excelled by any competitor of his day. In both capacities he exercised his splendid talents for the benefit of his country; his arguments having, for their basis, sound constitutional knowledge; and, for their support, first-rate powers of ratiocination and eloquence. His sense of honour, says Sir William Jones, was lofty and heroic; his integrity, stern and inflexible; and no love of dignity, of wealth, or of pleasure, could have tempted him to deviate, in a single instance, from the straight line of truth and honesty. Burke, at a public meeting, described him as the first in his profession; and declared, he knew no man, in any situation, of a more erect and independent spirit, of a more proud honour, a more manly mind, or a more firm and determined integrity. "Never, however," says Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, "did nature enclose a more illuminated mind in a body of meaner and more abject appearance. It is difficult to do justice to the peculiar species of ugliness which characterised his person and figure, though he did not labour under any absolute deformity of shape or limb." The same authority also says, that he was fond of viewing his face in the glass,
and passed no time more to his satisfaction than in decorating himself for his appearance in the world. He alludes, also, to the physical impediments Dunning laboured under, from the huskiness of his voice; but admits that, in spite of the monotony of his tones, and his total want of animation and grace, so powerful was reason, when flowing from his lips, that every murmur became hushed, and every ear attentive. At the bar, he seldom forgot his dignity, for the sake of confusing a witness; and, when he did, met with answers which remain rather as records of his discomfiture, than of his discrimination or wit. The most popular are the following :A gentleman being repeatedly asked by him if he did not lodge in the verge of the court, at length answered, that he did. "And pray, sir," said the counsel," for what reason did you take up your residence in that place?" "To avoid the rascally impertinence of dunning," answered the witness.Whilst examining a handsome young woman, in a case of crim. con., he asked her whether her mistress had ever communicated the important secret to her. "No, sir," said the woman,
"she never did." "How, then, can you swear to her infidelity?" cause I saw another gentleman besides my master in bed with her." "Indeed." "Yes, indeed, sir." "And pray, my good woman," said Dunning, " did your master, for I see you are very handsome, in return for his wife's infidelity, go to bed to you! ?" "That trial," said the spirited young woman, "does not come on to-day, Mr. Slabberchaps."-One day, whilst cross-examining and endeavouring to bother an old woman, in a case of assault, he asked her, in reference to the identity of the defendant, whether he was a tall man? "Not very tall," said she: "much about the size of your worship's person." "Was he goodlooking?" "Quite the contrary; much like your honour, but a handsomer nose.' "Did he squint?" "A little, your worship; but not so much as your honour, by a great deal." Dunning asked her no more questions.
In his domestic relations, he was amiable and affectionate in the extreme, and, says Sir A. Jones, "for some months before his death, the nursery had been his chief delight, and gave him more pleasure than the cabinet could have afforded."
ALEXANDER WEDDERBURN, EARL ROSSLYN.
ALEXANDER, son of Peter Wedderburn, descended from an ancient Scotch family, was born on the 13th of February, 1733, in Scotland. Being bred to the law, he was called to the bar when twenty years of age, and had practised some time in his native country, when a real or supposed insult from the bench, induced him to remove to the courts of England. Having, in 1753, become a member of the Inner Temple, he was, in 1757, called to the English bar; and, in order to divest himself of the characteristic accent of his countrymen, received tuition in speaking from Messrs. Macklin and Sheridan. He soon acquired celebrity in his profession; and, in 1763, was made a king's counsel, becoming a bencher of Lincoln's Inn about the same period. Some time afterwards he came into parliament for the Scotch
borough of Rothesay Inverary, and during the early part of his career, he took the popular side; but, in January, 1771, accepted the office of solicitorgeneral and became a staunch adherent of the government.
In 1773, he acted as advocate for Lord Clive, on the charge brought against him in the house of commons; and in 1774, was elected member of parliament both for Castle Riding, in Norfolk, and Oakhampton, in Devonshire; on which occasion, he took his seat as representative of the latter. In 1778, he was returned for Bishop's Castle, in Shropshire; and, in the July of the same year, he obtained the office of attorney-general. During the riots in 1780, he declared, in his official capacity, at a privy-council, that an assemblage of depredators might be dispersed by military force, without the form of