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that absolute perfection in any one thing can only in this way be arrived at, yet the world, regarding the very limited comprehensiveness of the human mind, has always looked with awe upon one who has attempted to transcend these intellectual limits and become a universal genius. This endeavor has never met with more than partial success. Of Lord Brougham's multiform productions, it is not too much, perhaps, to say, that his novel is now almost unknown; that his histories are unread; that his biographies, owing to their inexactness and personal bias, are consulted only by the curious in search of racy reading; that his theological arguments fail to convince the searcher after truth; that his scientific essays are a marvel only to the uninitiated; that but few of the studied periods of his once famous orations now start the blood or fire the ambition of the reader; that his treatises on education, politics, oratory, and law have had their day in short, that no one of his literary works will ever become a classic; while even his judicial decisions are regarded as only doubtful authorities. During his long public life, covering more than half a century, no man has been so extravagantly praised, so thoroughly despised, so basely defamed, so unceasingly ridiculed; no one has been more severely criticised; no one has had his faults so often and so unsparingly exposed; and yet no public man has, apparently, been actuated by nobler motives or accomplished more general good than Lord Brougham.
It is of one only of the many parts which this most extraordinary man played that we would speak. Law was his chosen profession. As an advocate, he won renown and popular affection. As Lord Chancellor, he became a peer. The reform of the law was the thing nearest to his heart. Let us, then, briefly review his legal career, even at the risk of repeating familiar facts, and see to what extent he succeeded, and in what and why he failed of complete success.
Henry Brougham was born in Edinburgh on the 19th of September, 1778. Although he was a Scotchman by birth, and his mother was Scotch, yet his father was an Englishman, and the representative of a very old English family. He attended the famous High School at Edinburgh; and, having determined to study law, received his professional as well as his collegiate education at the University of Edinburgh. He had a strong repugnance for his chosen profession of an advocate; and in a letter
to his friend, Sir Joseph Banks, dated Dec. 10, 1800, expresses his aversion to it, and his resolution to attempt an opening in the political world, but at the same time to cultivate the duties of his profession to secure a retreat, in case his plan should fail.1 In 1800, he was called to the bar by the Faculty of Advocates, and began to practise law in his native city. The calls of his profession upon him were not so numerous as to prevent his occupying a large portion of his time in general literary studies, in contributing to the press, and in writing books and preparing papers on the greatest variety of subjects. During this period, when he was striving to work up at the bar, a number of his literary companions, whose names have since become famous, and who, like him, espoused with ardor the extreme liberal, Whig politics, started the "Edinburgh Review." Soon after its establishment, Mr. Brougham became a contributor, and for many years after supplied it with articles, a list of which furnishes a surprising proof of his wonderful versatility and untiring industry. In 1803, he published a work, in two octavo volumes, entitled, an "Enquiry into the Colonial Policy of European Powers;" and, before he had reached the age of twenty-five, he had so distinguished himself by the merit of his scientific contributions to the Royal Society, as to be rewarded with the honor of being elected a Fellow.
From a variety of causes, he did not find it desirable to remain and continue the practice of the law in Edinburgh. It was a small provincial town at that time, and its inhabitants were consequently narrow-minded and bigoted, especially on the subject of politics. His political views, so different from those of the party then in power, and so objectionable to the wealthy and influential class in Edinburgh, had a most disastrous effect upon his professional prospects there, not only tending to deprive him of valuable clients, but even to injure the interests of such clients as might come to him; for at that time there were in Scotland no jury trials in civil cases, and the judges, who were violent Tories, seem not to have been constrained by any motives of decency or judicial propriety from giving vent to their political bias against those persons who were in any manner connected with the Whigs. Lord Cockburn gives a very melancholy picture, in his "Me
1 Foss's Judges of England, ix. 80.
morials," of the position and prospects of the young Whig members of the Scottish Bar who were practising law in Edinburgh while Brougham remained there :
"The Bar, upon which the condition of Scotland has always so much depended, was rich in talent, and its public lines were deeply marked. It was divided into Whigs and Tories, with an overwhelming numerical majority in favor of the latter. . . . The public favor was strongly with the Tories; who had also the much more valuable advantage of the very undisguised favor of the Bench. But still the Whigs, having started, could not be prevented going on with the race. But all hope of official preferment, and even of any professional countenance that power could show them, was sternly and ostentatiously closed against them. . . . Of the juniors, by whom I mean those who came to the Bar between 1790 and 1804, the hot stage of our political fever, which our second war cooled - very nearly the whole junior practice, and absolutely the whole of every thing else that patronage could confer, was engrossed by the Tories. Their Whig brethren were, practically, proscribed. They liberated themselves ultimately, and vindicated their proper places; but it was under proscription, with all its privations and bitterness, that their course began.
"Those on the opposite side, who saw themselves excluded from every thing that power could keep from them, reaped the natural advantages of this position. It gave them leisure: persecution cherished elevation of character and habits of self-dependence. Being all branded with the same mark, and put under the same ban, they were separated into a sect of their own, within which there was mirth and friendship, study and hope, ambition and visions. There was a particular place at the north end of the Outer House, which was the known haunt of these doomed youths. And there did they lounge, session after session and year after year, employed sufficiently now and then by a friendly agent to show what was in them, but never enough to make them feel that they were engaged in a fair professional competition: reconciled, however, to their fate; and not at all depressed by their bad character." 1
Among the most important of this class, Lord Cockburn mentions Henry Brougham. This treatment was far from crushing Mr. Brougham's spirit, as will be seen from the following amusing description given, by Lord Cockburn, of his contests with the old Tory judge, Lord Eskgrove, who was then at the head of the Criminal Court:
"Brougham tormented him, and sat on his skirts wherever he went, 1 Memorials of His Time, pp. 144-146.
for above a year. The Justice liked passive counsel, who let him dawdle on with culprits and juries in his own way; and consequently he hated the talent, the eloquence, the energy, and all the discomposing qualities of Brougham. At last, it seemed as if a court day was to be blessed by his absence, and the poor Justice was delighting himself with the prospect of being allowed to deal with things as he chose; when, lo! his enemy appeared — tall, cool, and resolute. 'I declare,' said the Justice, 'that man Broom, or Brougham, is the torment of my life!' His revenge, as usual, consisted in sneering at Brougham's eloquence by calling it or him the Harangue. 'Well, gentle-men, what did the Harangue say next? Why, it said this [misstating it]; but here, gentle-men, the Harangue was most plainly wrongg, and not intelligibill.'" 1
Francis Horner, writing in November, 1802, says,—
"Should an active scene be opened to Brougham, I shall tremble with anxiety for some time, though it is what I very ardently wish; his information on political subjects, especially in some departments, is now immense; his talents are equal to the most effective use and display of that knowledge. But his ardour is so urgent, that I should be afraid of his being deficient in prudence. That he would ultimately become a leading and predominant mind, I cannot doubt; but he might attempt to fix himself in that place too soon, before he had gone through what, I presume, is a necessary routine of subordination.” 2
In 1806, he visited London, and appeared before the House of Lords as counsel in the case of the disputed succession of the dukedom of Roxburgh. He was after that for some time a pupil of Mr., afterwards Chief-Justice, Tindal, who had then acquired a considerable reputation as a special pleader, and who was afterwards connected with Mr. Brougham in many cases, being selected by Mr. Brougham's recommendation as one of the counsel for Queen Caroline in 1820.3
In 1807, he was called to the English Bar by the Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn, and went upon the northern circuit, where Mr. Tindal also practised; selecting that, doubtless, with a view to the advantages which the fact of his being descended from an ancient Westmoreland family (Brougham Castle and the old family estate of Brougham Hall being there situated) might insure to him.4 Of that bar he became the leader.
1 Memorials, pp. 120, 121.
2 Life and Correspondence, i. 211. Boston, 1853.
8 Foss, ix. 81, 283, 284.
4 McGilchrist, 48.
Considering the peculiar disadvantages under which he labored at the Scottish Bar, it is not at all surprising that he sought in England, where Whig principles were not smothered, and where lawyers of the most liberal political opinions had risen to distinction and honor, the field which his restless spirit longed for where he might freely feed his honorable ambition and bring into action, both in law and politics, the varied powers which he felt that he possessed.
He had, from the first, says a recent biographer,"A fair share of practice on his circuit, but was, more moderately employed for a considerable time in London, more especially in the higher courts. We do not find his name, until 1811, in the reported cases of the Queen's Bench. He was, however, frequently employed in the much more lucrative cases tried before the Privy Council, the House of Lords, and Committees of both houses. Very early he became the especial and most frequent defender of persons tried for political offences, succeeding in this field to Erskine's position. . . . Brougham, although well employed in cases of the above characters, was too much engaged by a variety of other matters to find it possible to give himself to the daily routine of business in Westminster Hall. Not until about 1819 do we find his name appear with any thing like regularity."1
What Francis Horner, himself a great man, wrote of him as early as 1812, was a fair and discriminating estimate of Lord Brougham during his whole career. Horner had been his neighbor and playmate when a boy, his companion at school and in college, his intimate friend and associate at the bar and in Parliament, and had used these opportunities of watching his course with rare discernment. He sets forth as concisely and as impartially as possible the merits and the principal faults which always distinguished Lord Brougham as a lawyer:
"Brougham's success at the bar is prodigious; much more rapid and extensive than that of any barrister since Erskine's starting. I am going down to-morrow to hear him in defence of Hunt, which is a cause of great expectation. I have been present at several arguments of his in Banc; of which I should not, to say the truth, make a very high report; that is, in comparison of his powers and reputation. Great reach and compass of mind he must ever display, and he shows much industry, too, in collecting
1 Life of Lord Brougham, by John McGilchrist, 49. London, 1868. I am indebted to this work for many facts relating to Lord Brougham's early life.