Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

and foes, he alternately roused the terror and the laughter of his audiences. At the bar and in the Irish House of Commons he was alike notorious as jester and bully; but he was a courageous bully, and to the last was always as ready to fight with bullets as with epigrams, and though his humor was especially suited to the taste and passions of the rabble, it sometimes convulsed with merriment those who were shocked by its coarseness and brutality. Having voted for the abolition of the Irish Parliament, the Right Honorable John Toler was prepared to justify his conduct with hair-triggers or sarcasms.

To the men who questioned his patriotism he was wont to answer, “Name any hour before my court opens tomorrow," but to the patriotic Irish lady who loudly charged him in a crowded drawing-room with having sold his country, he replied, with an affectation of cordial assent, “Certainly, madam, I have sold my country. It was very lucky for me that I had a country to sell—I wish I had another.” On the bench he spared neither counsel nor suitors, neither witnesses nor jurors. When Daniel O'Connell, whilst he was conducting a cause in the Irish Court of Common Pleas, observed, “Pardon me, my lord, I am afraid your lordship does not apprehend me;" the Chief Justice (alluding to a scandalous and false report that O'Connell had avoided a duel by surrendering himself to the police) retorted, “Pardon me also; no one is more easily apprehended than Mr. O'Connell” (a pause—and then with emphatic slowness of utterance) “whenever he wishes to be apprehended.” It is said that when this same judge passed sentence of death on Robert Emmett, he paused when he came to the point where it is usual for a judge to add in conclusion, “And may the Lord have mercy on your soul!" and regarded the brave young man with searching eyes. For a minute there was an awful silence in the court; the bar and the

a

assembled crowd supposing that the Chief Justice had paused so that a few seconds of unbroken stillness might add to the solemnity of his last words. The disgust and

. indignation of the spectators were beyond the power of language, when they saw a smile of brutal sarcasm steal over the face of the Chief Justice as he rose from his seat of judgment without uttering another word.

Whilst the state prosecutions were going forward, Lord Norbury appeared on the bench in a costume that accorded ill with the gravity of his office. The weather was intensely hot; and whilst he was at his morning toilet the Chief Justice selected from his wardrobe the dress which was most suited to the sultriness of the air. The garb thus selected for its coolness was a dress which his lordship had worn at a masquerade ball, and consisted of a green tabinet coat decorated with huge mother-ofpearl buttons, a waistcoat of yellow relieved by black stripes, and buff breeches. When he first entered the court, and throughout all the earlier part of the proceedings against a party of rebels, his judicial robes altogether concealed this grotesque attire; but unfortunately towards the close of the sultry day's work, Lord Norbury-oppressed by the stifling atmosphere of the court, and forgetting all about the levity as well as the lightness of his inner raiment--threw back his judicial robe and displayed the dress which several persons then present had seen him wear at Lady Castlereagh's ball. Ere the spectators recovered from their first surprise, Lord Norbury, quite unconscious of his indecorum, had begun to pass sentence of death on a gang of prisoners, speaking to them in a solemn voice that contrasted painfully with the inappropriateness of his costume.

In the following bright and picturesque sentence, Dr. Dibdin gives a life-like portrait of Erskine, whose personal vanity was only equalled by the egotism which often gave piquancy to his orations, and never lessened their effect:“ Cocked hats and ruffles, with satin small-clothes and silk stockings, at this time constituted the usual evening dress. Erskine, though a good deal shorter than his brethren, somehow always seemed to take the lead both in pace and in discourse, and shouts of laughter would frequently follow his dicta. Among the surrounding promenaders, he and the one-armed Mingay seemed to be the main objects of attraction. Towards evening, it was the fashion for the leading counsel to promenade during the summer in the Temple Gardens, and I usually formed one in the thronging mall of loungers and spectators. I had analysed Blackstone, and wished to publish it under a dedication to Mr. Erskine. Having requested the favor of an interview, he received me graciously at breakfast before nine, attired in the smart dress of the times, a dark green coat, scarlet waistcoat, and silk breeches. He left his coffee, stood the whole time looking at the chart I had cut in copper, and appeared much gratified. On leaving him, a chariot-and-four drew up to wheel him to some provincial town on a special retainer. He was then coining money as fast as his chariot wheels rolled along." Erskine's advocacy was marked by that attention to trifles which has often contributed to the success of distinguished artists. His special retainers frequently took him to parts of the country where he was a stranger, and required him to make eloquent speeches in courts which his voice had never tested. It was his custom on reaching the town where he would have to plead on the following day, to visit the court over-night, and examine its arrangements, so that when the time for action arrived he might address the jury from the most favorable spot in the chamber. He was a theatrical speaker, and omitted no pains to secure theatrical effect. It was noticed that he never appeared within the bar until the cause célèbre had been called; and a buzz of excitement and anxious expectation testified the eagerness of the assembled crowd to see, as well as to hear, the celebrated advocate. Every article of his bar costume received his especial consideration; artifice could be discerned in the modulations of his voice, the expressions of his countenance, and the movements of his entire body; but the coldest observer did not detect the artifice until it had stirred his heart. Rumor unjustly asserted that he never uttered an impetuous peroration which he had not frequently rehearsed in private before a mirror. About the cut and curls of his wigs, their texture and color, he was very particular: and the hands which he extended in entreaty towards British juries were always cased in lemon-colored kid gloves.

Erskine was not more noticeable for the foppishness of his dress than was Lord Kenyon for a sordid attire. Whilst he was a leading advocate within the bar, Lord Kenyon's ordinary costume would have disgraced a copying clerk; and during his later years, it was a question amongst barristers whether his breeches were made of velvet or leather. The wits maintained that when he kissed hands upon his elevation to the Attorney's place, he went to court in a second-hand suit purchased from Lord Stormont's valet. In the letter attributed to him by a clever writer in the 'Rolliad,' he is made to say“My income has been cruelly estimated at seven, or, as some will have it, eight thousand pounds per annum. I shall save myself the mortification of denying that I am rich, and refer you to the constant habits and whole tenor of my life. The proof to my friends is easy. My tailor's bill for the last fifteen years is a record of the most indisputable authority. Malicious souls may direct you, perhaps, to Lord Stormont's valet de chambre, and can vouch the anecdote that on the day when I kissed hands for my appointment to the office of Attorney General, I ap

a

peared in a laced waistcoat that once belonged to his master. I bought the waistcoat, but despise the insinuation ; nor is this the only instance in which I am obliged to diminish my wants and apportion them to my very limited means. Lady K will be my witness that until my last appointment

I was an utter stranger to the luxury of a pocket-handkerchief." The pocket-handkerchief which then came into his possession was supposed to have been found in the pocket of the secondhand waistcoat ; and Jekyll always maintained that, as it was not considered in the purchase, it remained the valet's property, and did not pass into the lawyer's rightful possession. This was the only handkerchief which Lord Kenyon is said to have ever possessed, and Lord Ellenborough alluded to it when, in a conversation that turned upon the economy

which the income-tax would necessitate in all ranks of life, he observed—“Lord Kenyon, who is not very nice, intends to meet the crisis by laying down his handkerchief.”

Of his lordship’s way of getting through seasons of catarrh without a handkerchief, there are several stories that would scarcely please the fastidious readers of this volume.

Of his two wigs (one considerably less worn than the other), and of his two hats (the better of which would not have greatly disfigured an old clothesman, whilst the worse would have been of service to a professional scarecrow), Lord Kenyon took jealous care. The inferior wig was always worn with the better hat, and the more dilapidated hat with the superior wig ; and it was noticed that when he appeared in court with the shabbier wig he never removed his chapeau ; whereas, on the days when he sat in his more decent wig, he pushed his old cocked hat out of sight. In the privacy of his house and in his carriage, whenever he traveled beyond the limits of town, he

« PreviousContinue »