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Kay's Originals Vol. 1


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 20 1 in his pleading, and addressing the other lords on the bench, said-“My lords it is unnecessary that I should go on, as Lord Newton is fast asleep.” “Ay, ay,” cried Newton, whose faculties were not in the least affected by the leaden god, “ you will have proof of that by and by,” when, to the astonishment of the young advocate, after a most luminous review of the case, he gave a very decided and elaborate jud,ment against him. Lord Newton participated deeply in the bacchanalian propensities so prevalent among lawyers of every degree during the last and beginning of the present century. He has been described as one of the “ profoundest drinkers ” of his day, A friend informs us that, when dining alone, his lordship was very abstemious ; but, when in the company of his friends, he has frequently been known to put three “ lang-craigs ” under his belt, with scarcely the appearance of being affected by it. On one of these occasions, he dictated to his clerk a law-paper of sixty pages which has been considered one of the ablest his lordship had ever been known to produce. The manuscript was sent to press without being read, and the proof sheets were corrected at the bar of the Inner House in the morning. It has been stated that Lord Newton often spent the night in all manner of convivial indulgences-drove home about seven o’clock in the morning-slept two hours, and mounting the bench at the usual time, showed himself perfectly well qualified to perform his duty. Simond, the French traveller, relates that “ he was quite surprised, on stepping one morning into the Parliament House, to find in the dignified capacity, and exhibiting all the dignified bearing of a judge, the very gentleman with whom he had just spent a night of debauch, and parted only an hour before, when both were excessively intoxicated.” His lordship was also exceedingly fond of card-playing; so much so that it was humorously remarked, ‘‘Cards were his profession, and the law only his amusement.” During the sitting of the Session, Lord Newton, when an advocate constantly attended a club once a week, called “The Crochullan Fencibles,” which met in Daniel Douglas’s Tavern, Anchor Close, and consisted of a considerable number of literary men and wits of the v e r y j d water. The club assumed the name of Crochallan from the burthen of a Gaelic song which the landlord used sometimes to entertain the members with; and they chose to name their association Fencibles, because several military volunteer corps in Edinburgh then bore that appellation. military rank or title. On the introduction of new members it was the custom to treat them at first with much apparent rudeness, as a species of initiation, or trial of their tempers and humours ; and when this was done with prudence, Lord Newton was much delighted with the joke, and he was frequently engaged in drilling the recruits in this way. His lordship held the appoint- In this club all the members held some pretended . Long-necks-a name given by his lordship to bottles of claret, his favourite beverage. 2D
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209 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. ments of Major and Muster-Master General to the corps. The late Mr. Smellie introduced the poet Burns to this corps in January 1787, when Lord Newton and he were appointed to drill the hard, and they accordingly gave him a most severe castigation. Burns showed his good-humour by retaliating in an extemporaneous effusion,’ descriptive of Mr. Smellie, who held at that time the honourable office of hangman to the corps. The eccentricities of Lord Newton were frequently a source of merriment amongst his friends. He had an unconquerable antipathy to punning, and in order to excite the uneasiness he invariably exhibited at all attempts of that nature, they studiously practised this novel species of punishment in his company. His lordship had two estates (Newton and Faichfield), and was fond of agricultural improvements ; although, like most other lawyers who cultivate their own lands, he did not know much about farming. One day, when shown a field of remarkably large turnips, he observed that, in comparison, those on his own grounds were only like “ gouf ba’s ” (golf balls),-an expression which his waggish friends frequently afterwards turned to his annoyance, by asking him how his “ gouf ba’s ” were looking. We have already mentioned that Lord Newton was an uncompromising Whig. From his independent avowal of principles, and occasional vehement declamation against measures which he conceived to be wrong, he was dubbed by his opponents the “Mighty Goth.” This, however, was only in the way of goodnatured banter : no man, perhaps, passed through life with fewer enemies, even among those who were his political opponents. All bore testimony to his upright conduct as a judge-to his talents as a lawyer-and to his honesty as a man. Lord Newton died at Powrie, in Forfarshire, on the 19th of October 181 1.’ His lordship, who is understood not to have relished fernale society, was never married ; and the large fortune which he left was inherited by his only sister, Mrs. Hay Mudie, for whom he always entertained the greatest affection. This excellent piece of good-natured satire appeara in Bums’ Works under the title of {‘A Fragment.” 9 Lord Newton, when an advocate, continued to wear the gown of Lockhart, “Lord Covington,” till it was in tatters, and at last had a new one made with a fragment of the neck of the original sewed into it, whereby he could still make it his boast that he wore “Covington’s gown.” Lord Covington died in 1782, in the eighty-second year of his age. He practised for upwards of half a century at the bar previous to his elevation to the bench in 1775. He and his friend, Ferguson of Pitfour, rendered themselves conspicuous by becoming voluntary counsel for the unfortunate priaonem tried at Carlisle in 1746, for their concern in the Rebellion, and especially by the ingenious means they devised to shake the wholesale accusations against them. The linea will be found inserted in our sketch of Mr. Smellie.
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