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TABLE-TALK ABROAD.NO. V.
The Court of Cummon Pleas, "In those days the Judges of the Common Pleas were Mansfield, Chambré, Rooke, and Heath, all able men and excellent judges. Sir James Mansfield had succeeded to the present Earl of Eldon, on the advancement of the latter to the woolsack ; and it really resembled the overtaking of Eternity by Time, for the one was decisive in the same ratio the other was disposed to pause and hesitate. With a proper confidence in his powers, Mansfield justified his nomination to the Bench by a zealous discharge of his duty, and his appearance and manner there I thought equally imposing, and as eminently adapted to the high station be occupied. His silvery and projecting eyebrows, rivalling the snowy whiteness of his wig, gave him a venerable air, and would have announced no ordinary length of years had not his bold and ruddy countenance, the energy and emphasis of his gesture, combined with a firm and somewhat harsh tone of voice, given evidence that the infirmities of age had as yet been sparing in their inroads on his constitution, while his addresses from the Bench no less testified the integrity of his moral faculties, and the very fact of his being enabled to keep the Serjeants themselves in something like decent order, (the brotherhood was certainly composed of milder elements than they are now --they were neither presuming nor exuberantly vivacious) bespoke in him the possession of vigour of purpose and execution which none of his successors (save Gifford, during the short period he presided over the rebel coifs,) have apparently been enabled to attain. Best has equal spirit, but less dignity; there is too much of the “Sono anch'io Fratello'* in his composition; he identifies himself on and off the Bench with the Hermandad;t and, when disposed, he finds his powers insufficient to bend, much less to break the bundle of sticks. Then, it is said, (I know not with what truth,) that there is a Tu Brute inclination at times in some one or other of his colleagues, to encourage mutiny and insurgency against the sovereign will : be it as it may, there now exists but one specific for supererogatory excitement, and, as a ring is the very first thing they resort to as Serjeants, let that which has been termed • an Art of Peace,' be at once and finally resorted to as the only remedy. To return to Sir James Mansfield.-Shortly after his elevation, he was offered a peerage by Government; but, although there were those attached to him to whose advancement he was naturally not indifferent, could it have been legitimately obtained, and to whose interests he was any thing but callous, he was induced to decline the proffered honour. Off the Bench he showed himself a fine, hale, hearty old man; and when he put on his buckskins and other Nimrod attributes of dress, verily he might have been taken for some ancient and longpractised huntsman, for he was powerful of make, strong of limb, of active habits, bluff, bold, and somewhat uncourteous when he would. Lord Kenyon used to eye bis Prestons with ineffable contempt, as he reflected upon the improvidency of his brother judge; and regard his own interminable doeskins, on which age had bestowed a hue scarcely less sombre than the silken robe that hid them, and to which
long rubbing (a practice he had when he charged the Jury) gave a gloss that any polisher of mahogany might have envied.
“It was, as I remember, on a fine summer morning, (if such a thing be amongst the other fine things of London) that returning to town through the fields north of the metropolis, at an unusually early hour, I observed before me one whose strange movements and unaccountable gestures led me at first to the belief of his being deranged; for as, with form as upright as Lord Tenterden's conduct, he paced nervously and manfully along, he threw aloft as he went a ponderous cudgel, which, having performed the requisite number of evolutions in upper air, was caught in his powerful grasp as it fell, and again expedited on high, with as much energy as it was caught in its descent, with ease. Long he pursued this violent exercise, with a degree of perseverance and exertion that would have exhausted a round dozen of the dandies of this day, and, while he thus gave play to his muscles, trod lightly and firmly : his figure was, as I said, strong and not inelegant; he was habited in black, and with the utmost care and neatness, and my curiosity was awakened to ascertain who might be this matinal athléte. As I approached bim, he turned suddenly without discontinuing his gymnastics, or evincing the slightest embarrassment at being observed ; and to my low and reverent courtesy, the cudgelplaying Chief Justice removed his beaver and replaced it, while yet his far-sent Djerrid was somersetting above, and, clutching it again, pursued bis homeward course to breakfast, and then to law. I am morally certain that he often wished in Court that he had but that vivacious shilelah in bis grasp when as some brother in a moment of brief excitement-I know not how it is, but no sooner has some dull, longplodding jurisconsult, by the especial compassion of the Chancellor for his age or infirmities, been vested with the coif, than all his homelier and quiescent ideas become active, deranged, and unsettled; and the black patch on his wig has the immediate effect of a blister on the head, without the beneficial results of that vesicatory application in regard to the fever of the brain. There may be some secret with the craft or brotherhood ; but the comparison is unfair, as there is no unanimity in their association ; it is rather a Carbonari meeting, where all are cousins and all cozening, where their language and manners are scarcely less common than their pleas. Sir James was learned as a lawyer, and a sound Judge, with some trifling bias, it may be (haply to himself unknown) towards the powers that be ;' his feelings were warm and readily excited, but without irritability, although his voice and manner might often induce the idea that his passions had been effectually aroused. I never beheld him more earnest and energetic than on occasion of charging the Jury in an action tried before him between the late John Kemble, as proprietor of Covent-garden Theatre, and Henry Clifford the barrister, when the merits of the celebrated O. P. Row came under discussion, and Clifford stood the advocate of popular rights (more fitly termed popular wrongs), as the tragedian the defender of his interests and property. The opinion of the Chief Justice was warmly and decidedly expressed in favour of the latter, and in prejudice of the honest counsellor,' and his exposition of ine law of the case was so forcibly opposed to the legality of the proceedings of the Pilt party, that, relying upon its effect on the twelve
'good men and true,' he hesitated not, on their retiring--(it was untimely certainly; for a verdict, if it be reversible, should never be anticipated)—to address the people, in endeavouring to impress on their minds the impropriety of the conduct pursued towards the theatrical manager, and in cautioning them against the recurrence of scenes tending to the disturbance of the public peace, and which would be now pronounced, by the decision of a just, impartial, and enlightened jury, equally unjustifiable, and subjected to correction of no trifling character, which would, on any future occasion, be as strictly as decidedly enforced. He had scarcely ended his address ere the twelve matter-of-fact judges appeared in the box, and at once gave an unanimous and unqualified verdict in favour of Clifford, with damages against Kemble (trifling in amount, it is true), in direct contradiction to the directions of the Judge, and as much to his amazement and disappointment as to the high delight of the assembled million, which filled the Hall in eager and anxious expectation of the event. One involuntary shout of ecstasy, prolonged and forceful as the well-expressed aspirations of Donnybrook fair--as a gentle difference of opinion at a female Bible Society-as the simultaneous burst of a Drury-Lane chorus in the Coronation Anthem-as the war-cry of fifty men or two women in a fight,-rang through the Hall, startled Lord Ellenborough in his distant den, threw Lord Eldon's nerves into Chancery, and excited many a quickly-successive pinch of snuff from Sir Archibald Macdonald' in his hold, completely exchequering his ideas. never saw a man so thoroughly posed as Sir James; he stood aghast, thunderstruck, and confounded; for when moved he always got upon his feet :- he cast one glance of fear and distrust at the rebellious dozen, and with a wrathful shake of head, which drew down clouds of powder from his perruque, left the court hastily, and in silence.
"I remember Lord Cochrane passing through the Hall at the moment his new-found constituents were indulging their vocal propensities. With all his service, he was neither weatherbeaten nor care-worn then. There was an expression of curiosity and wonder in his true Caledonian and right manly countenance, as he viewed the vagaries of Westminster. He knew as little of his companions at that time as he did of either disgrace or fear. To him it was truly Scot and Lot-a little time and much was changed. Twenty years have since gone by, and with them Bonaparte and South American slavery, the Turkish power in Greece, Brummel and Skeffington, Sheridan and Canning, Sheriff Parkins and Joanna Southcote, Kemble, Clifford, O. P. Rows, and what not ?
“ There was also Sir Giles Rooke, a good, quiet, simple, sad, and gentlemanlike person,' who, after having devoted a long life to the arduous study of the law, was seized in his patriarchal days with a taste for novel-reading-Mrs. Radcliffe, George Walker, the Burney, and even the emanations of the Minerva Press. He was, it is said, as little choice in the selection of writers as eager in the perusal of their works ; and with all the fervour of a curtain-firing chambermaid, would sacrifice the hours best adapted to repose and rest, after the wearying duties of the day, to the enjoyment of maudlin sentiment or the horrors of overstrained romance. Often would the morning sun find Sir Giles in bed, pursuing, with no wonted ardour, the progress of some tale of
sorrow or of love ; : participating in the deeper miseries of Fatal Sensibility,' or the sublimer horrors and more perplexed mysteries of. The Dumb Nan of St. Bog and Moat.' " Had Sir Walter been then, it would have been quite another thing ; but it was strange to see one of learning and of taste so employed. If I remember well, however, his was a romantic family; he had a brother, who, after having served his King with credits in the army, abandoned his native country for the land of the olive and myrtle, and, beneath cloudless climes and starry skies, sonight scenes better adapted to his taste than those his proper land afforded. With a spirit of research, a mind richly stored with knowledge, and a heart flowing with charity to all mankind, he established his head-quarters at Rhodes, within the very walls once possessed by the Knights of St. John, whence he would occasionally visit in his yacht the beautiful islands of the Grecian archipelago, or direct his course to those of the Septinsular Republic, his worth and amiable qualities assuring him a grateful reception whithersoever he went. His collection of medals and manuscripts were said to have been extremely valuable ; but when Colonel Rooke died (in Rhodes, I believe), it is to be feared that they became the spoil of those who more largely benefited by his bounty while living, than they were disposed to evince a due respect for his memory when dead.
* Heath seemed in his very dotage ; and he who beheld the inane expression of his features -- his seeming abstraction from things around -the palsied motion of his head--the death-like paleness of his countenance, and reflected on his large account of years, must have regarded him with sentiments of compassion, and esteemed him more a mockery than an ornament to the place on which he had intruded; yet his moral faculties were far superior to his physical powers : and when in tremulous accents he laboured to convey his opinion on a case of legal difficulty, one was only the more astonished at the integrity of his mind, the clearness of his views, and his force of memory. When raised to the Bench, he positively refused to be knighted, and no entreaty could prevail upon him to attend at court for that purpose. . Precedent and custom were urged in vain, and he lived and died plain John Heath.
“On the decease of Sir James Mansfield, Sir Vicary Gibbs was nominated his successor, and never was there a man more eminently qualified by legal erudition for that high station. He had strong natural talent, learning, and great eloquence; and, as he ascended the Bench, he divested bimself in a great degree of that asperity of character which had distinguished him at the Bar, and of the extreme severity by which his conduct as a Crown officer had been undoubtedly marked. If he were opposed most hostilely to the public press (more so than it was generally deemed circumstances might have warranted), he might perhaps urge, in apology of his conduct, the interpretation he felt himself conscientiously bound to give to the duties of his office in times of tumult and of danger: bis feelings as a man were in no wise identified with his measures as a minister of the law; he assumed the Bench upon the purest principles, and proved himself an upright and temperate judge. It was unfortunate that bis constitution, ever delicate, had been severely tried by excessive study and labour ;-circumstances, too, connected with his private life had cruelly thwarted his better nature :
and, already subjected to much physical infirmity, he had scarcely ascended the judgment-seat when a deplorable-event, which occurred in a distant land to one near in blood as dear to his affections, conferred a shock upon his system which his weakened powers might not support, and he died, it is believed, of a broken heart.
"Sir John Richardson was one of Gibbs's colleagues. The midnight lamp had dried up in him all the strengthening juices of life; pale, emaciated, and delicate, he accepted but struggled not for the retention of his honours ;-he was La legge senza corpore'*mand he wisely determined to cherish what little remained to him of existence, and, most unlawyerlike, resigned place, patronage, and profit. With a Shandean spirit, he horrified the Chancellor, and upset at once all his Lordship's ideas respecting the fitness of things,' by throwing his wig and gown and some thousands a year carelessly at his feet, as he announced his intent of seeking the fair and healthful shores of the Mediterranean, and leave law and lawyers, sessions, circuits, and that sort of rigmarole, for ever behind him. This er officio information is said most mightily to have discomposed his Lordship: and as Sir John reasoned of Malta and Sicily-Naples, Etna, and Vesuvius oranges and ananas-lacryma Christi, macaroni, and pleasure to come verily he most grievously confounded the keeper of the seals, who, except from Lord Londonderry, knew as little about such things (Heaven help him) as he did of Mr. Shiel, Sir Walter Scott, or Jeremy Bentham himself. He swore that bis then Vice had bitten Sir John : that there was a Carbonari conspiracy among the judges--that Best, and Park, and Bailey, and haply old Wood and Alexander, would all soon follow the example, leaving Littleton for Lazzaroni, the courts of law for those of Ferdinand and Pius. In short-but it would not do like Sterne, with light heart and lighter health, (Richardson greatly resembles the English Rabelais in person,) he would have his way and will: and unmoved by the tears of Chancery-the predictions of Park of dangers uncontemplated before the charge of Best, or the imploring looks of his brother coifs, he disbarred himself from their embrace, and with the travelling directions of his friend, t'other Sir John, for his guide, resolved to taste those pleasures by which his mind had been seduced, as the travelled Vice would recount to wondering benchers and petrified judges, on a grand day at Lincoln's Inn, the richness of San Carlo--the admirable architecture of La Scala--the glories of San Pietro-the soft delights of the midnight Serenata-the generous qualities of the exhilarating Aleatico—the palatable gout of Ronciglione
“ la bellezza della Paesana Toscana,” † or the soul-subduing glances of the dark-eyed Napolitana. Verily his Honour has much to answer for ; and, if Brougham do but succeed, luckily for John Bull, in cutting off the resources of the profession at home, its members may just as well pack up toga and wig, and hie them also to Naples, for it is no less the seat of pleasure than it is of law: and many, I assure them, will suit admirably well there. What pleasure, to behold these two modern Minoses ;-Equitas and Lex Communis arm in arm ;---the twin sages of the land disporting them on the borders of the Bay of Naples -eyeing the melon-bearing brunette with no flaw-finding eye ;-flirt
* Law without body.
+ The beauty of the Tuscan peasant.