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Kay's Originals Vol. 2


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 145 ~6 6 &fr. Tait-Elected as you have lately been, by the unanimous voice of the General Commissiouers, to 6ll an important and arduous office, it is with pleasure I, as Chief Magistrate of Edinburgh, perform my official task of inducting you in that chir, as Judge of Police, for this city, and the vicinage. " 'Much legal, as well as local knowledge, just and steady principles, firmness of decision, united with moderation and mildness of manner, ought to characterise the person invested with such extensive powers as the act oonfers. I am happy in believing y m possess them all ; and they are in my mind sure pledges that you will discharge the duties of the situation, to which you have been so honourably chosen (however arduous or unpleasant they may be), with such fidelity and success, as to merit the grateful thanks of your fellow-citizens, and the approbation of the public at large. '' ' On the assistance and cordial co.operation of the Magistrates of Edinburgh, you may always most assuredly rely. Our ardent and united wish being to see this metropolis (long since held deservedly in the highest estimation for its seminaries of learning, and its courts of law) equally distinguished by purity of manners, propriety of conduct, and an uniform veneration for, and undeviating obedience to, the laws, both civil and religious, in every class and individual member of the community.' "The Judge of Police then addressed the Lord Provost and Commissioners in the following speech :- " ' I approach this seat with emotions widely different in their nature ; with extreme diffidence of my own capaoity, but with great confidence is the honourable support which I see around me. ' I am fully aware of the importance of the situation which I am now called to occupy. Much of the virtue of a nation depends upon the ezertions of the Police in preventing crimes, in suppressing them in their infancy, and even in checking them in their advanced progress, especially in the metropolis, which must always greatly influence, and, I may say, even regulate the morals of the country to which it belongs. '' 'To conduct an Establishment of Police is, therefore, an important, and reflection tells us that it must be an arduous, task. But I here declare, that no considerations of personal labour, no considerations of personal safety, shall deter me from performing, so far as my abilities reach, the duties which I conceive to be attached to the situation which I am now to hold. In the performance of these duties, I shall have occasion to punish-I could wish it were otherwise. The powers of this Court are limited, but these powers are a check sufficient to give an essential protection to virtue, in every situation, and to give a check to vice and profligacy in whatever rank of life they may be found. The statute under which I am to act, empowers rqe to punish by fine and compensation for damages, by imprigonment in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, or by commitment to Bridewell, The fines and compensation for damages are but small in amount, nor can the imprisonment in the Tolbooth, or the commitment to Bridewell, be long in duration.- But still there is extent enough to make the punishment, if properly directed, be felt in every rank ; and I consider it to be my duty, sitting here, to pronounce judgments which may be sensibly felt by all those who break through that decency and good order which contribute so essentially to the comforts of society. " ' I shall be sorry indeed to be obliged to sink those in the inferior ranks of life still lower, by inflicting punishments of a degrading nature. .And I shall regret still more to he obliged to apply the punishments which naturally belong to the inferior ranks to those in a higher class. But I am bound by the sacred oath which I have taken, to discharge my duty as my conscience dictates ; and that conscience tells me that I am not to look to p e r m , hut to crirnes. " ' In cases of U deep dye this Court cannot proceed to punishment, but it ha4 however, in such cases, to apprehend and hand over to the superior tribunals ; and there these deeper crimes will meet with the punishment which they merit. '' ' In what I have said I have referred chiefly to that branch of my duty which relates to the prevention and puuishment of offences against peace and good order. There are a variety of other branches, some of a judicial, some of a minist&Z nature. I shall not detain you with an enumeration of them. Among the latter, however, I may mention the billeting of soldiers ; and, in that department, I hope to be able to astablish an uniformity of system, which may add to the comforts of the army, and, at the same time: free the inhabitants liable to be quartered upon, from some inconveniences which The same principle must pervade the whole. VOL. IL U
Volume 9 Page 194
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146 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. the present system unavoidably produces.-To the various duties of my office I shall pay unremitting attention. And trusting in a conscious desire to discharge my duty in an upright manner ; trusting to the support of those around me ; and trusting, above all, in the direction and support of that Power which has been so fervently invoked, I now take that seat, to which I have been so honourably appointed, and so honourably introduced.’ “Mr. Sheriff Clerk’ then addressed the Judge of Police in a very sensible and appropriate speech, pointing out the arduous duties of his office (which his experience as Chief Magistrate of the county for twelve years enabled him with propriety to do), and expressing his satisfaction that it was filled by a gentleman of so much ability and integrity. “ The Judge of Police then returned thanks to the Commissioners, particularly to Sir William Forbes, by whose unremitting attention this institution, calculated to promote virtue and happiness, has been fostered, from the first proposal of the plan, and brought at last to its present honourable state of maturity. ‘‘ The different officers were then sworn in by the Judge of Police, -rho gave them a very proper exhortation respecting the duties of their office. “The Court of Police waa accordingly opened the same day (July 15) at the Office of Police, in Riddell’s Close, Lawnmarket, where apartments have been commodiously fitted up for the purpose.” Whether from a too exalted idea entertained of the trust reposed in him, or from a dislike on the part of the public to the new system of police-or probably from a combination of both-certain it is “ Judge Tait ” was not among the most popular of the civic rulers. Hence the satire of the artist-“An Eminent Judge of-broom-besoms ! ” Mr. Tait was, notwithst,anding, a man of talent, as well as of considerable literary attainments ;’ and his speech above quoted is highly creditable to him. “I am bound,” is his declaration, “ by the sacred oath which I have taken, to discharge my duty as my conscience dictates; and that conscience tells me that I am not to look to persons but to crimes.” That this was not mere idle declamation on the part of Mr. Tait very speedily appeared by his decisions. On the 13th of August following, two gentlemen having been brought before him, charged with giving and accepting a challenge -which they admitted-he caused them to be fined, and bound over in heavy penalties to keep the peace. At the same time, while he delivered his sentiments, in a forcible manner, on “ challenging and duelling, as crimes against the laws of the land,” he expressed his determination strictly to enforce the authority with which he was invested, for the peace of society :-“ Hereafter, if persons are brought before me, and convicted of having given or accepted a challenge, I shall consider it my duty to send such persons to the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, for a certain period by way of punishment, besides binding them over to keep the peace ; and if persons are brought before me, and convicted of having fought a duel, I shall equally consider it my duty to send them to Bridewell. Because all respect of persons must be attached to their strict observance of the laws of their country ; and those who bid defiance to the laws, in whatever situation they may otherwise be placed, are equal in that respect, and ought equally to feel the force of those laws which they contemn.” That the situation to which Mr. Tait had been appointed was no sinecure, Aftenvards one of the Barons of Exchequer. e In his early years he had cultivated the Muses. He published. two or three thin quarto volumes of poetry. Amongst his poems is an elegy on Goldsmith.
Volume 9 Page 195
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