Edinburgh Bookshelf

Kay's Originals Vol. 1


168 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. known to plead from fifteen to twenty causes in one day. Some idea of the influence and high character to which he had attained as an advocate may be gathered from the couplet in the " Court of Session Garland," by Boswel1:- '' However of our cause not being ashamed, Unto the whole Lords we straightway reclaimed ; And our petition was appointed to be seen, Because it was dram by Robbie M'Queen, On the death of Lord Coalston, in 1766, Mr. M'Queen was elevated to the bench by the title of Lord Braxfield-an appointment, it is said, he accepted witth considerable reluctance, being in receipt of a much larger professional income. He was prevailed upon, however, to accept the gown, by the repeated entreaties of Lord President Dundas,' and the Lord Advocate, afterwards Lord Melville. In 1780 he was also appointed a Lord Commissioner of Justiciary; and in 1787 was still more highly honoured by being promoted to the important office of Lord Justice-clerk of Scotland. Lord Braxfield was equally distinguished on the bench as he had been at the bar. He attended to his duties with the utmost regularity, daily making his appearance in court, even during winter, by nine o'clock in the morning ; and it seemed in him a prominent and honourable principle of action to mitigate the evils of the " law's delay," by a despatch of decision, which will appear the more extraordinary, considering the number of causes brought before him while he sat as the Judge Ordinary of the Outer House. As Lord Justice-clerk, he presided at the trials of Muir, Palmer, Skirving, Margarot, Gerald, etc. in 1793-4. At a period so critical and so alarming to all settled governments, the situation of Lord Justice-clerk was one of peculiar responsibility, and indeed of such a nature as to preclude the possibility of giving entire satisfaction. During this eventful period Lord Braxfield discharged what he conceived to be his duty with firmness, and in accordance to the letter and spirit of the law, if not always with that leniency and moderation which in the present day would have been esteemed essential. The conduct of Lord Braxfield, during these memorable trials, has indeed been freely censured in recent times as having been distinguished by great and unnecessary severity ; but the truth is, he was extremely well fitted for the crisis in which he was called on to perform so conspicuous a part, ; for, by the bold and fearless front he assumed, at a time when almost every other person in authority quailed beneath the gathering storm, he contributed not a little to curb the lawless spirit that was abroad, and which threatened a repetition of that reign of terror and anarchy which so fearfully devastated a neighbouring country. But if the conduct of his lordship in those trying times was thus " Mr. M'Queen had contracted an intimacy with Mr, Dundas, afterwards Lord President of the Court of Session, and his brother, Lord Melville, at a very early period of life. The Lord President, when at the bar, married the heiress of Bounington, an estate situated within a mile of Braxfield. During the recesses of the Court, these eminent men used to meet at their country seats and read , and studied law together. This intimacy, so honourable and advantageous to both, continued through life."
Volume 8 Page 238
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