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Sir William Grant

Sir William Grant, another great man connected with Canada during the time posterior to the conquest, and third attorney-general of the province of Quebec, an eminent lawyer; was descended from the Grants of Beldornie, so long distinguished in the history of Scotland. He was born in 1754, at Elchies, on the banks of the Spey, in the county of Engin, and was partly educated in the grammer school of Elgin, from which he removed to the old college of Aberdeen, where he completed his education, and then repaired to London, and entered at Lincoln's-Inn, where he pursued the study of law. His whole mind was engrossed in the endeavor to obtain knowledge of his profession, and of the various business of life; and so successful were his efforts, that at the age of twenty-five, he was considered competent to fill the situation of attorney-general of this province, to which he was appointed, and he quitted England without having been called to the bar. His commission bears date 10th May, 1776. On his return to England, some time after, he engaged in practice in the courts of common law, and joined the home circuit. Being naturally of a reserved and retired turn, he travelled the circuit for several years without obtaining a single brief; but happening to be retained in sme appeal from the Court of Session in Scotland to the House of Lords, Lord-Chancellor Thurlow was much struck with his powers of argument, and having learned his name, observed to a friend, "Be not surprised of that young man should one day occupy this seat." That this prophetic opinion was not exactly fulfilled, has been attributed to his having refused that high office. He subsequently left the common-law bar and practised solely in the Court of Chancery. At the general election in 1780, Mr. Grant was returned to Parliament for the borough of Shaftesbury, and soon distinguished himself as a powerful coadjutor of Mr. Pitt. He seldom spoke, and never but on questions with which he was fully acquainted; but his talents and intelligence were soon so generally recognised as to render his assistance essentially valuable, and on one occasion in particular, when the question for a new code of laws for the province of Qubec, excited much disccussion. Mr. Grant's local information, and his great professional skill, particularly in the civil law, powerfully strengthened his reasoning; and it was then that the celebrated Mr. Fox, after warmly complimenting him, saluted him as one of his most formidable antagonists. It was in 1791 that he thus distinguished himself in the great debate relating to the laws of Canads; and in 1792 he made a most able, acute and argumentative speech in defence of the ministry on the subject of the Russian armament. He was called within the bar with a patent of precedence in 1798, and in the same year was appointed a Welsh judge, but he was not re-chosen; however, a vacancy for Windsor happening in the following January, he was selected for that borough; he was at that time solicitor-general to the Queen. In 1796, he was chosen knight of the shire for the Scottish country of Banff. In 1798, he was appointed chief-justice of Chester. In 1799, he succeeded Lord Redesdale as solicitor-general, and, as is usual, obtained the honor of knighthood on his promotion; and on the 20th May, 1801, in consequence of the elevation of Sir Pepper Aiden to the chief-justiceship of the Common Pleas, he was nominated Master of the Rolls. In 1802, Sir W. Grant made a speech in Parliament in favour of the definitive treaty of peace with France. In February, 1805, he supported the address to the crown in defence of the war with Spain; and in the course of the same year he opposed Mr. Whitehead's proceedings against Lord Melville, and the subsequent motion for the impeachment of that nobleman for his conduct while treasurer of the navy. He opposed the American intercourse bill in 1806, and received the thanks of a committee of merchants of the city of London for his conduct on that occasion. In 1807, he animadverted at some length on the bill brought into the House of Commons by Sir Samuel Romilly, the object of which was to alter the law as to the claims of creditors on the landed property of their debtors. Sir. W. Grant continued to represent the shire of Banff till the dissolution of Parliament in 1812. During a period of more than sixteen years did he fill the judicial chair in the Roll's Court, with undiminished ability and reputation. At length he became anxious to retire while yet in full possession of his faculties. This purpose he carried into effect towards the close of 1817. During the last two years of his life he lived chiefly at Barton House, Dawlish, the residence of his sister, the widow of Admiral Schank; and at that place he died, May 25, 1832.

Sir W. Grant is spoken of in Mr. Charles Butler's "Reminiscences" in the following tersm:-

"The most perfect model of judicial eloquence which has come under the observation of the reminiscent is that of Sir William Grant. In hearing him it was impossible not to think of the character given of Menelaus by Homer, or rather by Pope, that 'He spoke no more than just the thing he ought;' but Sir William did much more: in decompounding and analysing an immense mass of confused and contradictory matter, and forming clear and unquestionable results, the insight of his mind was infinite. His exposition of facts and of the consequences deducible from them, his discussion of former decisions and shewing their legitimate weight and authority, and their real bearing upon the point in question, were above praise; but the whole was done with such admirable ease and simplicity, that while real judges felt its supreme excellence, the herd of learners believed that they should have done the same. Never was the merit of Dr. Johnson's definition of a perfect style, 'proper words in proper places,' more sensibly felt than it was by those who listened to Sir William Grant. The charm of it was indescribable; its effect on the hearers was that which Milton describes when he paints Adam listening to the angel had ceased to speak; often and often has the reminiscent beheld the bar listening, at the close of a judgment given by Sir William, with the same feeling of admiration at what they had heard, and the same regret it was heard no more."


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