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From the days of Wriothesley, who may be regarded as the most conspicuous and unquestionable instance of judicial incompetency in the annals of English lawyers, the multitudes have always delighted in stories that illustrate the ignorance and incapacity of men who are presumed to possess, by right of their office, an extraordinary share of knowledge and wisdom. What law-student does not rub his hands as he reads of Lord St. John's trouble during term whilst he held the seals, and of the impatience with which he looked forward to the long vacation, when he would not be required to look wise and speak authoritatively about matters concerning which he was totally ignorant. Delicious are the stories of Francis Bacon's clerical successor, who endeavored to get up a quantum suff. of Chancery law by falling on his knees and asking enlightenment of Heaven. Gloomily comical are the anecdotes of Chief Justice Fleming, whose most famous and disastrous blunder was his judgment in Bates's case. Great fun may be gathered from the tales that exemplify the ignorance of law which characterized the military, and also the non-military laymen, who helped to take care of the seals during the civil troubles of the seventeenth century. Capital is Roger North's picture of Bob Wright's ludicrous shiftlessness whenever the influence of his powerful relations brought the loquacious, handsome, plausible fellow a piece of business. “He was a comely fellow," says Roger North, speaking of the Chief Justice Wright's earlier days, “airy and flourishing both in his habits and way of living; and his relation Wren (being a powerful man in those parts) set him in credit with the country; but withal, he was so poor a lawyer that he used to bring such cases as came to him to his friend Mr. North, and he wrote the opinion on the paper, and the lawyer copied it, and signed under the case as if it had been his own. It ran so low with him that when Mr. North was at London he sent up his cases to him, and had opinions returned by the post; and, in the meantime he put off his clients on pretence of taking the matter into serious consideration.” Perhaps some readers of this page can point to juniors of the present date whose professional incapacity closely resembles the incompetence of this gay young barrister of Charles II.'s time. Laughter again rises at the thought of Lord Chancellor Bathurst and the judicial perplexities and blunders which caused Sir Charles Williams to class him with those who

should only say that, having been, as he had been, both a soldier and a sailor, if it had been his fortune to have stood in either of these relations to the Directory-as a man and a major-general he should not have scrupled to direct his artillery against the national representatives :as a naval officer he would undoubtedly have undertaken for the removal of the exiled deputies ; admitting the exigency, under all its relations, as it appeared to him to exist, and the then circumstances of the times with all their bearings and dependencies, branching out into an infinity of collateral considerations and involving in each a variety of objects, political, phy. sical, and moral ; and these, again, under their distinct and separate heads, ramifying into endless subdivisions, which it was foreign to his purpose to consider, Mr. Erskine concluded by recapitulating, in a strain of agonizing and impressive eloquence, the several more prominent heads of his speech ; he had been a soldier and a sailor, and had a son at Winchester school-he had been called by special retainers, during the summer, into many different and distant parts of the countrytraveling chiefly in post-chaises. He felt himself called upon to declare that his poor faculties were at the service of his country—of the free and enlightened part of it at least. He stood there as a man-he stood in the eye, indeed, in the hand of God-to whom (in the presence of the company and the waiters), he solemnly appealed. He was of noble, perhaps royal, blood-he had a house at Hampsted-was convinced of the necessity of a thorough and radical reform. His pamphlets had gone through thirty editions, skipping alternately the odd and even numbers. He loved the Constitution, to which he would cling and grapple--and he was clothed with the infirmities of man's nature.”

6. Were cursed and stigmatized by power,

And rais'd to be expos’d.”

Much more than an average or altogether desirable amount of amiability has fallen to the reader who can refrain from a malicious smile, when he is informed by reliable history that Lord Loughborough (no mean lawyer or inefficient judge), gave utterance to so much bad law, as Chairman of Quarter Sessions in canny Yorkshire, that when on appeal his decisions were reversed with many polite expressions of sincere regret by the King's Bench, all Westminster Hall laughed in concert at the mistakes of the sagacious Chief of the Common Pleas.

But no lawyer, brilliant or dull, has been more widely ridiculed for incompetence than Erskine. Sir Causticus Witherett, being asked some years since why a certain Chancellor, unjustly accused of intellectual dimness by his political adversaries and by the uninformed public, preferred his seat amongst the barons to his official place on the woolsack, is said to have replied : “The Lord Chancellor usually takes his seat amongst the peers whenever he can do so with propriety, because he is a highly nervous man, and when he is on the woolsack, he is apt to be frightened at finding himself all alone-in the dark.As soon as Erskine was mentioned as a likely person to be Lord Chancellor, rumors began to circulate concerning his total unfitness for the office; and no sooner had he mounted the woolsack than the wits declared him to be alone and in the dark. Lord Ellenborough's sarcasm was widely repeated, and gave the cue to the advocate's detractors, who had little difficulty in persuading the public that any intelligent law-clerk would make as good a Chancellor as Thomas Erskine. With less discretion than good-humor, Erskine gave countenance to the representations of his enemies by ridiculing his own unfitness for the office. During the interval between his appoint*ment and his first appearance as judge in the Court of Chancery, he made a jocose pretence of 'reading up' for his new duties : and whimsically exaggerating his deficiencies, he represented himself as studying books with which raw students have some degree of familiarity. Caught with 'Cruise's Digest of the laws relating to real

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property, open in his hand, he observed to the visitor who had interrupted his studies, “ You see, I am taking a little from my cruise daily, without any prospect of coming to the end of it.”

In the autumn of 1819 two gentlemen of the United States having differed in opinion concerning his incompetence in the Court of Chancery—the one of them maintaining that the greater number of his decrees had been reversed, and the other maintaining that so many of his decisions had not endured reversal—the dispute gave rise to a bet of three dozen of port. With comical bad taste one of the parties to the bet—the one who believed that the Chancellor's judgments had been thus frequently upset—wrote to Erskine for information on the point. Instead of giving the answer which his correspondent desired, Erskine informed him in the following terms that he had lost his wine :

“Upper Berkley Street, Nov. 13, 1819. SIR :—I certainly was appointed Chancellor under the administration in which Mr. Fox was Secretary of State, in 1806, and could have been Chancellor under no administration in which he had not a post ; nor would have accepted without him any office whatsoever. I believe the administration was said, by all the Blockheads, to be made up of all the Talents in the country. “But you have certainly lost your bet on the subject of my de

None of them were appealed against, except one, upon a branch of Mr. Thellusson's will—but it was affirmed without a dissentient voice, on the motion of Lord Eldon, then and now Lord Chancellor. If you think I was no lawyer, you may continue to think so.

It is plain you are no lawyer yourself; but I wish every man to retain his opinion, though at the cost of three dozen of port. Your humble servant,



“To save you from spending your money on bets which you are sure to lose, remember that no man can be a great advocate who is no lawyer. The thing is impossible.”

Of the many good stories current about chiefs of the law who are still alive, the present writer, for obvious reasons, abstains from taking notice ; but one humorous anecdote concerning a lively judge may with propriety be inserted in these pages, since it fell from his own lips when he was making a speech from the chair at a public dinner. Between sixty-five and seventy years from the present time, when Sir Frederick Pollock was a boy at St. Paul's school, he drew upon himself the displeasure of Dr. Roberts, the somewhat irascible head-master of the school, who frankly told Sir Frederick's father, "Sir, you'll live to see that boy of yours hanged.” Years afterwards, when the boy of whom this dismal prophecy was made had distinguished himself at Cambridge and the bar, Dr. Roberts, meeting Sir Frederick's mother in society, overwhelmed her with congratulations upon her son's success, and fortunately oblivious of his former misunderstanding with his pupil, concluded his polite speeches by saying—“Ah! madam, I always said he'd fill an elevated situation. Told by the venerable judge at a recent dinner of ‘Old Paulines,' this story was not less effective than the best of those post-prandial sallies with which William St. Julien Arabin—the Assistant Judge of Old Bailey notoriety-used to convulse his auditors something more than thirty years since. In the · Arabiniana' it is recorded how this judge, in sentencing an unfortunate woman to a long term of transportation, concluded his address with—“You must go out of the country. You have disgraced even your own

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Let this chapter close with a lawyer's testimony to the moral qualities of his brethren. In the garden of Clement's Inn may still be seen the statue of a negro, supporting a sun-dial, upon which a legal wit inscribed the following lines :

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