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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Twenty-Six


WHEN I entered the profession, the Lord Justice-General was Lord Colonsay, and the Lord Justice-Clerk Lord Glencorse, two men each great, though not quite in the same way. Lord Colonsay was a model of sagacity, and one who understood men thoroughly. Patient, and ever courteous, one can recall his rich laugh when, by a few pithy questions, he had pricked the bubble of an argument, a laugh in which it was impossible for the sufferer not to join. Dignified without pomposity, he was a splendid representative of justice, and it was well said of him in one of Alexander Nicolson s clever skits, that he was

"Impatient only to the man
Who vainly hid his hand."

He was a Highlander in the best sense, and spoke like a Highlander. He was one who could not make an enemy, and who was kind to a friend. I had from him many a friendly word, sometimes conveyed to me through his brother, Archibald Macneill, who was a Writer to the Signet and one of his clerks of Court. Speaking of his brother recalls a story of a conversation between two of his people in his island of Colonsay. The incident occurred when Bishop Colenso had published his work, and by doing so created a great sensation. Two cronies meeting, one said:

"Hef ye heard ta. news?"

"Na, waat news?"

"Ach, dredfaal news. Colonsay has been writing against Mowsis."

"Do ye say thaat—oh, eh, yus, but it wull not be Colonsay, it wull be his brither, Archie, it's him that's the writer, ye ken.'

Among his colleagues was Lord Deas, of whom many a story is told; one of an encounter between him and Colonsay is worthy of a place, bringing out in strong relief the characters of the Lowlander and Highlander, The case under consideration related to the sufficiency of fences upon a farm. Lord Deas was inclined to think they were shown to be sufficient, but the President thought otherwise. Said Lord Deas, "A fence might surely be good enough, although it wus nut so strong as to keep out a Highland bull." "Perhaps," retorted Colonsay, "your lordship thinks it would be sufficient if it could keep in a Lowland stot."

Among the judges Lord Deas was the only one of whom it can be said that he was a "character.' There are more stories about him than about the whole of the rest of the Bench put together. It is difficult to select, but perhaps along with that given above the following may do, as illustrative of the man, who had a kindly heart, but a sardonic temperament.

A young counsel had put some not astute questions in cross-examination, and closed a door of escape for his client, which was only ajar so far as the prosecution was concerned. Lord Deas put down his pen and said to the unfortunate advocate:

"Ye'd make a vera guid prosecutor, Mr. -.I'll be glad to see you on the ither side of the table some day."

He was the terror of the thieves of Glasgow, who thought their luck was out when they saw him on the Bench as they ascended the stair of the dock. The good stories about him are many, but the temptation to take up space must be resisted.

In the Second Division Lord Glencorse (John Inglis) presided. Of most commanding intellect and highly cultivated in learning, he shone in every department, as he had done at the Bar, and left his mark on the records of legal lore in the official reports. Sometimes it seemed as if he hardly appreciated how crushingly he could excercise his power. From him, too, I received much friendly kindness, which I gratefully remember. There is little that can be told of him from a jocularity point of view, but one incident may be chronicled. When on Circuit at Jedburgh a counsel rather given to grandiloquence had emphasized a point he was making by saying to the jury that he pledged his professional reputation in support of his contention. At the next town on the Circuit; he was loudly repeating the same pledge, when the Lord Justice-Clerk Inglis said drily from the Bench, "I am afraid, Mr.-, that the article you mention is already in pawn at Edburgh!"

In the Outer House the senior judge was Lord Neaves, a humorist of no mean powers, of whom Lord Cockburn said when he was still a young man, "Agreeable, literary, and an excellent compounder of humorous verse." His ballads, such as "The Rechabite,"' 'The Permissive Bill," "The Origin of Species," and others, gave much amusement to the reader, and I have heard him sing them, in a recitative style, saying that he had left all his vocal musical powers in the Jury Court.

I quote three verses from his "Origin of Species," which treats jocularly of Darwin's theories, and are good specimens of his style:

"But I'm sadly afraid, if we do not take care
A relapse to low life may our prospects impair,
So of beastly propensities let us beware
Which nobody can deny.

This lofty position our children may lose,
And, reduced to all-fours, must then narrow their views,
Which would wholly unfit them for filling our shoes,
Which nobody can deny.

Thus losing Humanity's nature and name,
And descending through varying stages of shame,
They'd return to the monad from whence we all came,
Which nobody can deny."

Lord Neaves and his ballads bring up to memory another member of the Bar who, at an earlier period, shone in merry versification, George Outram, who has left us many a good thing in fun and good-nature. His song, " 'he Annuity" is a masterpiece of its kind.

Lords Benholme, Ardmillan, Mackenzie, and Kinloch were then in the Outer House, as Lord Neaves was, all kindly and courteous, before whom it was a pleasure to plead. One cannot speak in detail of them, or of all the judges in the Inner House, but of Lord Benholme. I will say that he was the most patient judge I ever saw on the Bench. Even in a period when interruption of counsel was not so frequent as it is now, he was facile princcps. At times one would almost wish for some relaxation from the sphinx-like stillness, in the hope of a word that might reveal which way the judicial mind was leaning. A combative counsel was quite out of his element at Lord Benholme's Bar, whose first and only word in many a case was "Avizandum."

In contrast to Lord Benholme's patient listening, an incident which occurred in one of the Divisional Courts is amusing;. It was the rule in former days that if a counsel was pleading before a Lord Ordinary, and a case in which he was retained was called in a Division, he was required to state the fact to the judge, and leave his Bar. In a case where this occurred there was a long and, as it appeared to the Bench, an unseemly delay, before the counsel appeared. On his arrival the senior judge said, frowning, "You ought to remember, Mr.--, that the fact that you are addressing a Lord Ordinary s no excuse for not coming to the Division when a case is called."

Counsel replied, "Oh, my lord, that was not the state of matters at all, it was the Lord Ordinary that was addressing me!" This reminds one of the stranger who was taken to the House of Lords when a judicial case was proceeding, and being somewhat astonished at what was going on, as counsel was finding it difficult to get in a sentence edgeways, whispered to his friend, "Who is that barrister that is always interrupting the noble lord on the right of the Chancellor?" Apropos of this modern practice, it is told of Lord Hals-bury when he was Lord Chancellor, that when a case was proceeding before the House of Lords a counsel having been kept standing for a long time, unable to get in a word, while noble lords made little speeches in controversy with one another, he interposed at last and said: "Perhaps it would be advisable that we should listen to Mr.- and relieve him from having to listen to us."

Lord Kinloch was of a cheerful disposition, and he it was who uttered a famous reply when an advocate, which was afterwards appropriated in "Pump Court" as having occurred in London. When pleading at the Bar, the following poser was put to him by the Lord Justice-Clerk: "But, Mr. Penney, the peculiarity of the case as you are stating it, is that you have maintained four separate and inconsistent pleas." "Ha, hah," replied he, with that rolling laugh I remember so well, "there are four of your lordships." Even the sternest had to join - a the laugh which rang through the Court.

The Lord-Advocate, when I entered the Faculty, was Lord Moncreiff (the second), and the Solicitor-General was Mr. Maitland, afterwards Lord Barcaple, and I can best recall them when they pleaded for the pursuer in the celebrated cause of Longworthand Yelverton, in which they both distinguished themselves greatly by their closely reasoned and impassioned orations. Lord-Advocate Moncreiff and I were associated in another capacity than that of the Bar, as he became the first commanding officer of the Edinburgh Volunteers joining, as many gentlemen did at that time, as an encouragement to others. I cannot criiticise his capacity as a commander, as during the years he held the appointment he only attended once on parade on a markedly arm chair horse. He looked on and made a speech. I heard him say at a meeting of officers that his duties made it difficult for him to serve, and that he would resign at once if we thought he should do so. Of course, whatever our inward thought might be, none of us liked to say that we thought so, and he remained on for a long time. The result was that when I was made a major in 1861 I was fortunate, for I got practically the command of a battalion when I had been only two years in the force, which was a great delight to me, as I was fond of military exercises. Lord-Advocate Moncreiff was also Dean of Faculty for several years while holding the Government office. Lord Cockburn had long before expressed a very strong view against such a combination. In speaking of Duncan Macneill being made Dean when at the same time he was Solicitor-General, he says in his journal: "Altogether wrong; because the Deanery and the office of Lord-Advocate, or of Solicitor-General, should never be combined. . . . The Dean should be as ^dependent as he can be made; but if the chief local organ of Government can hold the place, it will never be independent at all." Of late years opinion has very decidedly leant in the direction of Lord Cockburn ; view, which certainly I share strongly. On becoming Lord-Advocate I at once resigned the Deanship. It is not likely that in the future a law-officer will be chosen for Dean. Apart from Lord Cockburn's objection on general principle, the practice which is now a settled one of both law-officers being members of the House of Commons, and the fact that Parliamentary life is now so exacting, would make it almost a scandal that the advocate chosen to represent the Bar as its head should hold either the office of Lord-Advocate or Solicitor-General. As I heard Lord Young, when at the Bar, say on the occasion )f an election of a Dean, 't was coming to be recognised that the Deanship should be a "lonely splendour."

On Mr. Maitland taking his seat on the Bench, Mr. Young, then one of the most powerful pleaders, became Solicitor-General, and was elected to represent the Witon Burghs. I remember hearing him say when someone asked him what his chances were of carrying the seat, that he thought it would be all right as he had a requisition from a majority of the electors, here are few men who have had such a chance as that. Strange to say, when he last stood for the same constituency, he was in no such fortunate case, he poll showed a majority of one against him, and this led to his accepting a seat on the Bench, filling a vacancy which had stood open for many months, he holding that the number of the judges should be reduced. The worst of it all was that after he had accepted the judgeship, t turned out on a scrutiny that he had been duly elected for the seat by a few votes.

He was one of the strongest pleaders in his time at the Bar, and was possessed of a very ready wit, albeit it was of a caustic type. Many of his sayings might be quoted, all very pointed and telling, but two or three must suffice. The printed papers in the Court of Session have the letters A to G set at intervals down the margin of each page, for convenience in pointing out a passage to which attention s being called. A counsel was 345 pleading in a floundering style and with many hums and haas, and Lord Young, not being sure of the place on the page that was being referred to, asked, "Where are you now, Mr.-" The reply was, "My lord, I am at C." "Ah, I thought so," said his lordship drily. He and Lord Deas were personal friends. Lord Deas, as a consequence of a riding accident, was lame for some years before his death, and always walked with a stick in one hand and an umbrella in the other. Speaking to Lord Young, he said: "George, do ye know why I always walk with a stick and an umbrella?' "No," was the reply, "unless ii is that you don't want to be taken for the devil on two sticks." On another occasion when he was pleading strongly against a will of a deceased person, Lord Deas said to him: "Mr. Young, if I was dying, and afterwards coming back and finding ye treating my will in that way, I wouldn't like it." "Oh, but," replied Mr. Young, "I trust your lordship would not come back. One of the most characteristic stories told of him is that, on an occasion, a friend meeting him in London said: "Oh, I see your judgment in the case of Caw against Croaker has been affirmed in the House of Lords yesterday. His reply was, delivered in his most caustic manner: "Well, it may be right for all that."

It is not possible to give stones of the Bar in chronological order. Here are a few, the dates of which are not of consequence.

In my early days at the Bar there was a learned counsel, charming, good-natured, and kindly, whose only failing was that he was a Knowall. No matter what the subject was—law, art, science, literature, history, or any other branch of knowledge, he was never at a loss. His dealing with a matter brought up was short, sharp, and decisive. It was told of him that when on a journey with some of his brethren to London for a case in the House of Lords, somewhere, in the middle of a dark night, the train seemed to be going rather slowly, and one of the party, half sleeping and half waking, murmured. "We must be going up a steep hill just now," when a decided voice was heard from the opposite corner, saying: "Not at all, slight gradient, one in two hundred and seventy he man who is a Knowall is sure to be caught at times. On one occasion,——was pleading vigorously that the point in dispute had been practically settled by "the well-known decision ;n the case before the English Court of Queen's Bench, Admix Robertson.'' Nobody else seemed to know of the existence of a case by that name, and it turned out that he had not noticed that there was no name "Admix," but that the case was truly that of So-and-so's Administratrix, the long office al title being contracted so as to look at a casual glance like Admix.is know all propensity led to cynical people seeking to trip him up, by getting him to utter a confident opinion on the spur of the moment. A brother advocate once said to him with a grave face: "By the bye-, what do you say on the disputed point whether sterity may be hereditary?" Promptly came the reply: "Why, certainly it can; I don't see how there can be any difference of opinion about it.'

An advocate somewhat addicted to flowery expressions was pleading upon a question in which the Corporation of Bo'ness was interested, and which sharply divided the members of the Council. At one point of his speech he said: "I trust * your lordships will believe that in the government of Bo'ness there is manifested in its Council a reasonable amount of amour proper Up started a Councillor of the opposition, and leaning over from behind to his advocate said in a loud stage whisper: "Na, na, tell them that we've naething of that low kind in Bo'ness."

In recounting Bench and Bar stories, I shall hope to be pardoned if I put in one here—somewhat out of place—in which I was the performer myself, and I suggest to anyone who has a horror of puns, to skip the next few lines. My late friend, Mr. Comrie Thomson, was pleading in a case where there was a dispute between two proprieters in Canongate of Edinburgh as to injury threatened by the proceedings of one to the security of the foundations of the house of the other. In the course of his argument he said that the building accordingto his information was founded on rock. My colleague, the late Lord Rutherfurd Clark, who excelled at putting catch questions in absolute solemnity of tone, said—in allusion to a celebrated sweetmeat—"You don't mean to say, Mr. Thomson, that you maintain that the house is built on Edinburgh rock." Being tempted 1 fell, and broke in: "I think if; Mr. Thomson accepted that, he would have to admit that the house would come down tout de suite? Lord Rutherfurd Clark generously accepted my counter, saying: "That's good—that's very good," and I hope the general hilarity was not on that occasion the sycophant to laughter which the profession are accused of having ready for Bench sallies, however feeble.

Speaking of the Bar of my time, it is interesting to notice that a quintette of "Sons of the Manse" attained to high distinction—Lord President Ingh's, Lords Watson, Robertson, and Kinross, and Solicitor-General Alexander Asher. It must be rare that so many ministers' sons should reach the top of their profession in one generation. Such a conjunction is not likely to happen again for a long time, and it is certain that it never occurred before. Three of them, however, did not hold to the tradition of their elders, as they were in their latter years adherents of the Episcopacy.

Lord Neaves n his own humorous style wrote an appreciation in verse of "The Sons of the Manse," which is well worth reading.

I must say a word about Robert Louis Stevenson, one who, although he did nothing at the Bar, brought lustre to it by his literary genius. When he was a young advocate I knew him well. Professor and Mrs. Fleeming Jenkin were very eager amateur actors, and in their house in Great Stuart Street established a very good stage, on which many Shakesperean plays, both tragic and comic, were produced, and Stevenson often had a part in the performance. Once—not in their house, but in the Misses Mairs (great-grand-daughters of Sarah Siddons)—I was set to take part in the trial scene in the Merchant of Venice. It may sound funny, but I was asked to play Shylock, and I did, to Robert Lot ■ s' Antonio, and he paid me the compliment of saying afterwards that the expression of "lodged hate," as interpreted in my face, was convincing . He and I walked home together that night, and severely criticised some performances of others, as possibly others did ours. I little thought then that I was side by side with one who was to carry forward the literary fame, of Edinburgh into yet another generation. I never saw him again after that night.

Some important events took place in the early Sixties. One which brought out great enthusiasm was the entry of the 78th Highlanders into Edinburgh, on their return from the East after the Indian Mutiny. The crowd in the streets was enormous, and the cheering wild. I was then a captain in the Edinburgh Volunteer Corps--afterwards the Queen's Brigade—and we were turned out to line the street from Waverley Station to the Mound. In consequence of a want of judgment the street lighting failed, and the procession was a fiasco. Our men were set at two paces interval, but the commanding-officer failed to realise that as the entrance into Princes Street from Waverley Station was a long curve, the intervals between the men on the outer side—the very place where the crowd was most dense—were, much greater than elsewhere. His attention was called to this, but he considered all was well, saying he would ride along when the troops came, and keep the crowd back with his horse. He did not realise that he and his horse would be as useful to stem the torrent as a walking-stick would be to dam a morace. My post was near the Royal Institution, and I found myself and my men presenting arms to a rushing mob of hundreds, who had in their eagerness rolled the lieutenant- colonel and all his men at the entrance to Princes Street before them, carrying them away "as with a flood." But all this was of little consequence, as "welcome was on every face, and shouted by every tongue. The regiment was headed by Colonel Ewart, whose empty sleeve told of what had been suffered in that awful time, when nothing but the unconquerable spirit of the British soldier had put down the effort of cruel and implacable rebels to destroy our power in India. This Colonel Ewart was the father of General Sir Spencer Ewart, the officer who by ability and devotion to his profession had raised himself to the Adjutant-Generalship of the Army, a position he vacated lately in extraordinary circumstances forced upon him, but in which his own honour was conspicuously maintained. He has since been appointed Commander- in-Chief in Scotland.


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