Mariano F. Medrano.

The American jurist and law magazine, Volume 21 online

. (page 34 of 45)
Online LibraryMariano F. MedranoThe American jurist and law magazine, Volume 21 → online text (page 34 of 45)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


other. Romilly is more candid or less generous, and, ex-
cept Baynes and a Mr. Ayscough, who also died young, —
*^ marry they were dead,^^ — there is scarcely one of his con-
temporaries whom he treats with any degree of professional
respect, or almost of personal kindness. His manner, in-



Digitized by



Google



1841.] Life of Sir Samuel RomiUy. 387

deed, to his brethren of the bar, was, at least in his later
years, so distant as to be almost supercilious; and his lips
seldom adopted the ordinary courtesy of calling them " his
learned friends."

About this time he formed an acquaintance with the then
notorious, and afterwards celebrated, count de Mirabeau,
which was ripened into intimacy by the incident of Romil-
ly's undertaking to translate into English Mirabeau's tract
against the order of the Cincinnati.

In defence of Mirabeau, Romilly permits himself to make
some very harsh observations on judge Duller, who presided
at a trial at the Old Bailey in which Mirabeau's character
was involved, and, as Romilly asserts, most scandalously
slandered by a false report of the judge's. We have taken
the trouble to Examine the whole affair — the details are too
long to introduce here — ^but we will take upon ourselves to
say, that, notwithstanding Romilly's very confident asser-
tions, his charge against judge Buller is entirely unjust ;
and that Mirabeau's conduct was iniquitous in the ex-
treme ; and as Romilly says that Mirabeau acted under his
advice, and that of sir Gilbert Elliott and Mr. Baynes, we
are sorry to have reason to say, that either the contagion of
Mirabeau's society must have warped their natural recti-
tude; or, which is more probable, his unscrupulous misrep-
resentations bad perverted their judgment.

His acquaintance with Mirabeau had an important influ-
ence on Romilly, as it was the means of his introduction to
the first marquis of Lansdowne, better known in the politi-
cal history of England as lord Shelburne, who became his
steady friend, and at whose house he became acquainted
with that affectionate wife, who, as he tenderly writes,
" was the author of all his happiness," and, alas ! by her
loss — after a union of twenty years — of intolerable misery.

Benjamin Yaughan had mentioned to lord Lansdowne a
tract which Romilly had written on the celebrated case of
25*



Digitized by



Google



388 lAfe of Sir Sanrnd RomiOy. [Jan.

the Dean of St. Asaph, under the title of " A Fragment on
the Constitutional Powers and Duties of Juries," which fell
in with his lordship's politics, and made him desirous of
Romilly's acquaintance. About this time, too, Madan pub-
lished his ** Thoughts on Executive Justice," " in which,"
says Romilly, '' by a mistaken application of the maxim,
' that certainty of punishment is more efficacious than its
severity for the prevention of crimes,' he insisted on the
expediency of enforcing in every instance the whole rigor
of the law." This work made a considerable sensation,
and, as Romilly contended, increased in a formidable pro-
portion the number of capital punishments. Lord Lans-
downe, amongst others, was dazzled and imposed on by
Madan's reasoning, and recommended Romilly to write
something to enforce the same doctrine. This induced him
to study the question, and the result was the production of
an anonymous pamphlet, called ''Observations on a late
publication, entitled Thoughts on Executive Justice," but,
instead of a defence, it was a strong refutation of Madan.
These pamphlets, though they had little success with the
public, brought Romilly into closer contact with the whigs
and reformers of the day.

In the mean while he was making very slow advance-s
in his profession. He was doing, indeed, a little business
in town as a chancery draftsman ; but he went six or seven
circuits with no other profit than that which was to him,
we dare say, no inconsiderable one, the diversion of the
change of scene, and the opportunity of studying in its
practical workings, that favorite object of his contempla-
tions, the criminal code. At length, however, he became
convinced of the truth of an observation he had heard from
Mr. Justice Heath, that '' there was no use in going circuit
without attending sessions," and he accordingly became a
practitioner at the Warwick sessions. The experiment
completely succeeded; he soon got into everything there,



Digitized by



Google



1841.] Life of Sir Samuel Romilly. 389

and that led by degrees to the first business on the circuit,
till at last the great increase of his chancery practice obliged
him to give up circuit altogether.

In the summer of 1787, died his friend Baynes, who ap-
pointed him his executor, and bequeathed him all his clas-
sical, legal, and antiquarian library ; and two letters from
Wilberforce and Mason, on the occasion of his death, attest
better than an epitaph in Dr. Parr's lapidary Latin, that
Romilly 's afifection for his friend was justified by his great
talents and many estimable qualities.

To the vacancy in Romilly's friendship, occasioned by
the death of Mr. Roget, Baynes seems to have succeeded, as
now Dumont succeeded Baynes ; and in the vacation of
1788 be paid his third visit to Paris, with this intelligent
and agreeable companion. His principal object was to
amuse himself, and to see more of Parisian society than
he had been enabled to do in his former short visits. They
had letters of introduction from lord Lansdowne, and both
had already several acquaintances : they saw, therefore, a
great many remarkable persons, but most, if not all of
them, of the philosophical sect ; La Rocliefoucauld, Lafay-
ette, Moreliet, Chamfort, Dupont (de Nemours), Condorc^jt.,
Jefferson, then American minister at Paris ; Mercief , tiie
author of the Pictures of Paris, (of which, by the way, the
second is much more curious than the first,) and Target,
the lawyer, so disgraced, and Malesherbes, so honoied by
their respective conduct in the trial of Louis XVI. With
Mirabeau, who was then publishing his book, which Ro-
milly calls his great work, on the Prussian monarchy, he
renewed his intimacy.

Amongst the objects of curiosity which the friends visifod
in Paris, was the Bicetre, a place of confinement, which
was at that time, and long after, very ill conducted. Ro-
milly's humanity was very much shocked by what be saw
both in the prison and hospital ; he next day mentioned this



Digitized by



Google



390 Life of Sir Samuel RomiUy. [Jan.

to Mirabeau, who entreated him to put his observations on
paper, which he did, and Mirabean soon afterwards trans^
lated them into French, and published them under the title
of " Leitre (Tun Voyageur Anglais sur la Prison de Bidlre."
He added to them, as from himself, some observations on
criminal law, nearly a translation from Romilly's pamphlet
against Madan. The work was suppressed by the police,
but not very successfully, for we have a copy of it now
before us. The origiual letter on the Bicetre, Romilly him-
self published, on his return to London, in '* The Reposito-
ry," a periodical of the day, conducted by Vaughan ; but
. called it a translation from Mirabeau. This incident affords
a small but curious instance of the difference of character
between the two men. Mirabeau published his translation
from Romilly as his own work ; Romilly published his own
work as a translation from Mirabeau.

While in Paris he also employed himself, at the request
of the count de Sarsfield, in drawing up a statement of the
rules and orders of proceeding in the English house of
commons, by which, or something equivalent, the few
sober heads of the states general were desirous of regulat-
ing what they foresaw would be a very tumultuous assem-
bly. Sarsfield began to translate this tract, but died before
he had advanced far in the work. Mirabeau, sensible of
the importance of the object, hastened to finish and publish
the transaction, " but it never,-' adds Romily, " was of the
smallest use; and the national assembly, as the states
general were pleased, soon after their meeting, to call them-
selves, never paid the slightest regard to it ; " nor, he might
have added, to any other principle of order or justice.

In the long vacation of 1789, Romilly hastened to pay
another visit to Paris, where matters had assumed a still
deeper intensity of interest. His friend Mirabeau was now
acting a great part; and '4t is not surprising," he adds,
" that he was a little (7) intoxicated by the applause and
admiration which he received."



Digitized by



Google



1841.] Life of Sir Samuel RomiUy. 391

Lord Lansdowne still cultivated his friendship ; and he
seems to have made frequent visits to Bowood, where his
friend Dumont was at, one period domesticated, as tutor to
lord Lansdowne's second son, Henry, (now marquis of
Lansdowne,) and afterwards frequently invited as a re-
spected and agreeable guest. In the autumn of 17%,
Romilly had very nearly missed his usual visit to Bowood,
and would thereby have missed the most important and
happiest event of his life. A visit which he made twenty
years later was the occasion of his thus recording the cir-
cumstances of this fortunate occurrence :

" To what accidental causes are the most important
occurrences of our lives sometimes to be traced • Some
miles from Bowood is the form of a white horse, grotesquely
cut out upon the downs, and forming a landmark to a wide
extent of country. To that object it is that I owe all the
real happiness of my life. In the year 1796, I made a visit
to Bowood. My dear Anne, who had been staying there
some weeks, with her father and her sisters, was about to
leave it. The day fixed for their departure was the eve of
that on which I arrived ; and if nothing had occurred to
disappoint their purpose, I never should have seea her.
But it happened that on the preceding day she was one of
an equestrian party which was made to visit this curious
object ; she overheated herself by her ride ; a violent cold
and pain in her face was the consequence. Her father
found it indispensably necessary to defer his journey for
several days, and in the mean lime I arrived. I saw in her
the most beautiful and accomplished creature that ever
blessed the sight and understanding of man. A most intel-
ligent mmd, an uncommonly correct judgment, a lively
imagination, a cheerful disposition, a noble and generous
way of thinking, an elevation and heroism of character,
and a warmth and tenderness of affection, such as is rarely
foimd even in her sex, were among her extraordinary



Digitized by



Google



392 lAfe of Sir Samuel RrnnUhf. [Jan.

endowments. I was captivated alike by the beauties of her
person and the charms of her mind. A mutual attachment
was formed between us, which, at the end of little more
than a year, was consecrated by marriage. All the happi-
ness I have known in her beloved society, all the many
and exquisite enjoyments which my dear children have
afforded me, even my extraordinary success in my profes-
sion, the labors of which, if my life had not been so
cheered and exhilarated, I never could have undergone —
all are to be traced to this trivial cause."

Of the worth of lady Romilly's mind her nearer friends
only could be adequate judges ; but those who remember
her in society will admit that her husband, who never
ceased to be a passionate lover, has but little exaggerated
her personal charms. She was lively, elegant, and pretty.

We regret that we have few traces of Romilly's profes-
sional progress, and none at all of his professional studies.
Amidst numerous notices of his general reading we find
little or no mention of the law ; and we suspect, that, as
sometimes happens, it was not till he began to get into busi-
ness that he devoted himself seriously to studies which to
be effective, must be almost exclusive. He himself, we
find, had a very modest opinion of his own legal acquire-
ments : and there are many circumstances that induce us
and much better judges than we can pretend to be, to doubt
whether he was a very profound lawyer ; but we cannot
doubt that one who was able to attain, and for so many
years to maintain, a position at the bar, as high, we believe,
as any man ever enjoyed, must have had not merely com-
petent, but eminent qualifications in the particular branch
which he cultivated. We find that prior — ^but it is not said
how long prior— to 1813 he was making 80002. or 9000iL a
year ; and we should not be surprised to be told that for a
few years before his death he had increased that income by
one half.



Digitized by



Google



1841 .] Ufe of Sir Samuel Ramittp. 393

In 1832 he took advantage of the peace of Amiens to
make, with his wife, a visit to Paris, of which he kept a
journal, which, though short and hasty, contains many
passages creditable to Romilly's taste and principles, and
some interesting observations on the then state of society.

We have no further account of Romilly's life, either pri-
vate or professional, till 1805, when we find ^' a narrative"
by him of the events of that year. He relates his honor-
able appointment by the good bishop of Durham to the
chancellorship of that diocese, which we have already
mentioned, and he gives some entertaining particulars of
the pompous, and, to him, vexatious and almost ridiculous
slaie — " the mimic grandeur,^^ as he calls it, to which he
was condemned during his annual official visits to the
county palatine.

About this time he became slightly and professionally
acquainted with the prince of Wales, by being employed in
a remarkable case in chancery concering the guardianship
of the daughter of the late lord Hugh Seymour. This
young lady had, from the death of her parents, which
happened, in her infancy, remained under the care of Mrs.
Fitzherbert, who almost considered the child as her own.
Some part of the family, however, were (not unnaturally)
dissatisfied with the child's being so brought up, Mrs. Fitz-
herbert being a Roman catholic, a circumstance the most
important, we think, in the case, but to which Romilly in
in his statement does not allude : they proposed, and the
master to whom the case was referred approved of, the ap-
pointment of lord Euston and lord Henry Seymour, two
near relatives, as guardians to the child, which was, in fact,
removing her from Mrs. Fitzherbert's care. " The prince,
who lived at Mrs. Fitzherbert's house as his own, was ex-
tremely anxious to prevent this. He loved the child with
parental afiection, and the idea of her being removed was
as painful to him as to Mrs. Fitzherbert herself; and Ro-



Digitized by



Google



394 Life of Sir Samtiel Romilly, [Jan.

milly being selected to conduct the appeal to the chancellor
from the master's decision, he once met the prince and had
a long conversation with him, but solely on the subject of
the suit. The result was that the chancellor confirmed the
report of the master, but on another appeal to the house of
lords, this division was reversed, t/ie friends of the prince
attending in unusual numbers, and the legal guardianship
was conferred on lord and lady Hertford, who, it was
known, did not intend to remove the child from the care of
Mrs. Fitzherbert.

Romilly's conduct of this cause was so acceptable to his
royal highness, that he pressed him to accept from him a
seat in parliament, which, however, his desire of indepen-
dence induced him to refuse.

Lord Lansdowne had tpld Romilly, years before, of some
conversations between him and lord Moira (the most confi-
dential friend of the prince) in which lord Moira had stated
that the prince was looking about for some lawyer of emi-
nence, on whose advice he could safely rely, and in whom
he could place unbounded confidence; and it is assuredly
not discreditable to either party that his royal highness
should have selected Romilly for that station of confidence.

Of this good opinion the prince soon after gave a still
stronger proof Circumstances concerning the conduct of
the princess of Wales had been forced upon his royal high-
ness's attention, on which he thought it necessary to have
professional advice ; he confided the case to Romilly. We
are not going to enter into that case, on the substantial point
of which there is now, we believe, no second opinion. We
will only say that the committing himself to the absolute
direction of Romilly, the first man in legal eminence, and
second to none in integrity and independence, is an irrefra-
gable proof of the delicacy, sincerity, and good faith of the
prince.

While this affair was in deliberation, the death of Mr. Pitt



Digitized by



Google



1841.] Life of Sir Samuel RomiUy. 395

bronght the whigs into office, and at the recommendation
of the prince — without any previous connexion with lord
Grenville or Mr. Fox — Romilly was made solicitor-general.
Here we fall in with Romilly's diary of his parliamentary
life. Never was there, as we think, a more prejudiced tis-
sue of special pleading in the bad sense of the word, of mis-
statement, and misrepresentation : but its worst feature is
the sometimes direct, sometimes sneering, generally unjust,
and always bitter and ungenerous censure of his political
opponents which pervades it. There is not a page of it in
which we should not find matter for contradiction, and we
think of refutation, and frequently of censure; but for the
reasons given in the outset of this article, we are unwilling
to enter into such discussions. We shall confine ourselves
to a few observations on points which concern Romilly him-
self

Romilly did not feel the same objection to accept a seat in
parliament from the ministry as he had done in the case of
lord Lansdowne and the prince ; and his distinction was,
we conceive, well founded ; but not altogether for the reasons
given by Romilly, who says that, if he should happen " to
disapprove of the measures of the ministers, it was open to
him to resign ; surely in the other cases he would have had,
at least, the same option ; or rather, indeed, a much larger
one, for a private member may retire without difficulty
whenever he pleases, but a man in office has ties of honor
to his colleagues and his party which might on many occa-
sions render his acting on his individual and personal feel-
ings very embarrassing.

For instance : in the very outset, and in the same page in
which he asserts the duty of resignation when he should
disapprove the measures of the government, we have a
practical example of his inconsistency on this important
point. In the general formation of the administration diere
were, he says, '' some few appointments which have been



Digitized by



Google



396 Life of Sir Samuel RrniiUy, [Jan.

received by the public with much dissatisfaction, and none
with more than that of Erskine to the lord chancellor.
The truth undoubtedly is, that he is tataUy unfit for the
situation."

What? sir Samuel Romilly, the foremost man of the bar,
who had spent all his life in denouncing legal errors and
abuses, and whose judgment must have had the greatest
weight with the public, acquiesces in and gives the weight
of his apparent approbation to the appointment of a totaUy
unfit man to the very highest of all judicial stations — a to-
tal unfitness of which he, Romilly, was of all men the most
competent judge— a total unfitness^ too, which was likely to
be more mischievous to the country and disgraceful to the
administration than any other improper appointment could
possibly be, because other judges have the control and as-
sistance of colleagues, but a chancellor stands alone, and
is, alone and in the last resort^ the ultimate arbiter of all
property, and even, as keeper of the king's legal conscience,
of questions of life and death. We are utterly unable to
discover on what principle either of moral, professional, or
«ven political duty, Romilly could justify his giving liis
countenance and cooperation to an appointment of which
he thus deeply disapproved.

In Romilly's own parliamentary conduct during the year
he was solicitor-general, we must observe, that, except an
act for amending one point of the bankrupt laws and ano-
ther for making freehold estates liable as assets for simple
-contract debts, he seems to have made no public effort to
effect any of the important reforms in either civil or crimi-
nal law, to which so much of his former attention had been,
-and so much of his future parliamentary life was, devoted.
We find that very soon after his appointment to office be
^stated privately to Mr. Grey, then first lord of the admi-
ralty, his disapprobation of the '^ enormous and inhuman
severity" of naval punishments. Mr. Grey gave his rea-



Digitized by



Google



1841.] Life of Sir Samuel RomiUy. 397

sons for not wishing to draw public attention to this delicate
subject. The solicitor-general disagreed from those rea-
sons, bnt acquiesced. When Mr. Windham introduced his
plan of military defence, " he did not propose any mitiga-
tion " of the "savage and inhuman punishments to which
soldiers are subject, and which have a most fatal influence
on the discipline of the army and upon the character of the
nation." This omission the solicitor-general no doubt de-
plored, but he (u^iesced. He stated privately to lord
Henry Petty the " most pernicious consequences " of lotteries,
and proposed their abolition; but the chancellor of the ex-
chequer could not part with that source of revenue, and the
solicitor-general acquiesced. Some proceedings had been
pending in the house of lords against an Irish judge of
the name of Pox — Romilly thought that judge Fox "ought
unquestionably to be impeached " — but the proceedings were
entirely dropped, and the solicitor-general acquiesced. Do
we blame Romilly for these acquiescences 7 — by no means ;
he may have been influenced by many justifiable consid-
erations — he was young in office — his authority in the
house was not yet established, and he could not have per-
sisted in what might be thought unseasonable propositions,
without losing the station by means of which he might
hope, at some future and more auspicious time, to accom-
plish his benevolent objects; but wc would ask any one
who has read this diary, in what a tone and temper he
would have spoken of any political opponent who should
have been guilty, as he would have called it, of a similar
suppression of deep and conscientious feelings on such mo-
mentous subjects.

Romilly 's success as a parliamentary speaker was con-
siderable — greater than he himself seems to have supposed
-r-and yet we think hardly equal to his merits. His style
and manner were rather impressive than pleasing; his voice
was sonorous — ^liis figure was well proportioned — his coun*-



Digitized by



Google



396 Life of Sir Samuel RomiUy. [Jao.

tenance fine, with somewhat of a tragic expression, which,
as well as the solemnity of his elocution, suited admirably
with the subjects of grave, and sometin>es touching inter-
est, which he was most inclined to discuss. But on ordin-
ary, and particularly on personal questions, these quaUties
tended to render still more offensive — even to third par-
ties — the habitual bitterness of his political feelings; he
was therefore rather a respected, and, by his antagonists,
dreaded speaker, than an admired or popular one ; and be-
like the painter Caravaggio — sometimes failed to produce an
intended effect from the very depth of the colors he laid
on.

Romilly first sat in parliament for Queenborough, a gov-
ernment seat, for which he was reelected at the whig dis-
solution in November, 1806 ; but this, of course, failed him
on the tory dissolution of 1807, and on this occasion Ro-
milly, by his own account, the accuracy of which we can-
not doubt, gave a practical proof of that spirit of inde-
pendence which he professed, and resolved to sacrifice a
large sum of his private fortune rather than be indebted to
either private or political friendship for a seat. '^ This buy-
ing of seats is," he says, 'detestable, but it is the only way
in which one in my situation, who is resolved to be an inde-
pendent man, can get into parliament." Seats were scarce
and dear, but an arrangement was made with the duke
of Norfolk, that Romilly should stand a contest for Hors-
ham, where his grace supposed he had a predominant in-
terest; and if successful, was to pay only the moderate —
as it was considered — sum of 2000/. Romilly was returned
but ousted on petition ; he was, however, too valuable to



Online LibraryMariano F. MedranoThe American jurist and law magazine, Volume 21 → online text (page 34 of 45)