Edinburgh Bookshelf

Kay's Originals Vol. 2


252 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHEX. He was diffident to follow one so greatly endowed ; and he said-" It is well lkown, I believe, to all your lordships, that I did long and earnestly decline this office. But, as it is a fixed principle of my life, that a public man, when he has no intirmitiea of age or sickness to excuse him, is bound to serve his country in any station to which his Sovereign may call him, I did not think myself ultimately justified in disobeying the gracious conimands of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent." The ability with which Lord President Hope filled the high station to which he was appointed is well known to all who are capable of appreciating his character. In Peter's Lefters to his Kinsfolk, the eloquence and dignified bearing of his lordship are portrayed with the author's usual felicity and power ; and the scene described is interesting, the more so that it is happily one of rare occurrence. The writer has just been speaking of the Second Division of the Court of Session, and he continues- " In the other Division of the Court, I yesterday heard, without exception, the finest piece of judicial eloquence delivered in the finest possible way by the Lord President Hope. The requisites for this kind of eloquence are, of course, totally different from those of accomplished barristership-and I think they are in the present clever age infinitely more uncommon. When possessed in the degree of perfection in which this Judge possesses them, they are calculated assuredly to produce a yet nobler species of effect than even the finest display of the eloquence of the bar ever can command. They produce this effect the more powerfully, because there are comparatively very few occasions on which they can be called upon to attempt producing it ; but besides this adventitious circumstance, they are essentially higher in their quality, and the feelings which they excite are proportionally deeper in their whole character and complexion. " I confess I was struck with the whole scene, the more because I had not heard anything which might have prepared me to expect a scene of so much interest, or a display of so much power. But it is impossible that the presence and air of any judge should grace the judgmentseat more than those of the Lord President did upon this occasion. When I entered, the Court was completely crowded in every part of its area and galleries, and even the avenues and steps of the bench were covered with persons who could not find accommodation for sitting. I looked to the bar, naturally expecting to see it filled with some of the most favourite advocates ; but was astonished to perceive, that not one gentleman in a gown was there ; and, indeed, that the whole of the first row, commonly occupied by the barristers, was entirely deserted. An air of intense expectation, notwithstanding, was stamped upon all the innumerable faces around me ; and from the direction in rrhich most of them were turned, I soon gathered that the eloquence they had come to hear, was to proceed from the bench. The Judges, when I looked towards them, had none of those huge piles of paper before them, with which their desk is usually covered in ali its breadth and in all its length. Neither did they appear to be occupied among themselves with arranging the order or substance of opinions about to be delivered. Each Judge crat in silence, wrapt up in himself, but calm, and with the air of sharing in the general expectation of the audience, rather than that of meditating on anything which he himself might be about to utter. In the countenance of the President alone, I fancied I could perceive the workings of anxious thought. He leaned back in his chair ; his eyes were cast downwards ; and his face seemed to be covered with a deadly paleness, which I had never before seen its masculine and commanding lines exhibit. " At length he lifted up his eyes, and, at a signal from his hand, a man clad respectably in black rose from the second row of seats behind the bar. I could not at first see his face ; but from his air, I perceived at once that he was there in the capacity of an offender, A minute or more elapsed before a word was said ; and I heard it whispered behind me that he was a wellknown solicitor or agent of the Court, who had been detected in some piece of mean chicanery, and I comprehended that the President was about to rebuke him for his transgression. A painful struggle of feelings seemed to keep the Judge silent, after he had put himself into the '
Volume 9 Page 334
  Enlarge Enlarge  
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 253 attitude of speaking, and the silence in the Court waa as profound as midnight ; but at last, after one or two ineffectual attempts, he seemed to subdue his feelings by one strong effort, and he named the man before him in a tone that made my pulse quiver and every cheek around me grow pale. '' Another pause followed-and then, all at once, the face of the judge became flushed all over with crimson, and he began to roll out the sentences of his rebuke with a fervour of indignation, that made me wonder by what emotions the torrent could have been so long withheld from flowing. His voice is the most hollow and sonorous I ever heard ; and its grave wrath filled the whole circuit of the walls around, thrilling and piercing every nerve of every ear, like the near echo of an earthquake. The trumpet-note of an organ does not peal through the vaults of a cathedral with half so deep a majesty ; and I thought within myself that the offence must indeed be great, which could deserve to call down upon any head such a palsying sweep of terrors. It is impossible I should convey to you any idea of the power of this awful voice ; but, never till I myself heard it, did I appreciate the just meaning of Dante, where he says, 'Even in the wilderness the Lion will tremble, if he hears the voice of a just Man.' " Had either the sentiments or the language of the Judge been other than worthy of such a vehicle, there is no question that the effect of its natural potency would soon have passed away. But what sentiments can be more worthy of borrowing energy from the grandest music of nature, than those with which an upright and generous soul contemplates, from its elevation of purity, the hlack and loathsome mazes of the tangled web of deceit ! The paltry caitiff that stood before him must have felt himself too much honoured, in attracting even indignation from one so far above his miserable sphere. With such feelings, and such a voice, it was impossible that the rebuke he uttered should not have been an eloque4t rebuke. But even the language in which the rebuke was clothed, would have been enough, of itself alone, to beat into atoms the last lingering reed of self-complacency, on which detected meanness might have endeavoured to prop up the hour and agony of its humiliation. Mena est id quod facit dkrfum ; and whatever harrowing words the haughtiness of insulted virtue, the scorn of honour, the coldness of disdain, the bitterness of pity might supply, came ready as flashes from a bursting thunder-cloud, to scatter tenfold dismay upon this poor wretch, and make his flesh and his spirit creep chill within him like a bruised adder. His coward eye was fascinated by the glance that killed him, and he durst not look for a moment from the face of his chastiser. He did look for a moment ; at one terrible word he looked wildly round, as if to seek for some whisper of protection, or some den of shelter. But he found none. And even after the rebuke was at an end, he stood, like the statue of Fear, frozen in the same attitude of immovable desertedness. * " This Judge was formerly President of the Criminal Court ; and after being present at this scene, I have no difficulty in believing what I hear from everyone, that, in pronouncing sentence, he far surpassed every Judge whom the present time has witnessed, or of whom any memory survives. Had any gone before him, his equal in the 'terrible graces' of judicial eloquence, it is not possible that he should soon have been forgotten. Feelings such as this man possesses, when expressed as he expresses them, produce an effect of which it is not easy to say whether the impression may be likely to abide longest in the bosoms of the good, or in those of the wicked. " As I came away through the crowd, I heard a pale, anxious-looking old man, who, I doubt not, had a cause in Court, whisper to himself-'' God be thanked, there's one true GENTLFXAN at the head of them all.' " In 1820 the President presided at the Special Commission for trying the cases of high treason at Glasgow and other places. His address to the grand jury, on opening the Commission, was published at their request. On the death of the Duke of Montrose, in 1836, by virtue of an Act of Parliament, he became invested with the office of Lord Justice General, the highest official office in Scotland ; and he presided in the Justiciary Court on several occasions, thus going back to the Justiciary Court after an absence of twenty-five years. At the proclamation of Queen Victoria he wore the robes of Lord Justice General. e
Volume 9 Page 335
  Enlarge Enlarge