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Lord Kames, of the Court of Session


Henry Home, Lord Karnes, well known by his numerous works on law and metaphysics, was a judge of the Courts of Session and Justiciary.

He was born in the county of Berwick, in the year 1695, and was descended of an ancient but reduced family. But it was to his own exertions, his natural talent and profound legal knowledge, that he was indebted for the high rank and celebrity he subsequently attained; for his father was in straitened circumstances, and unable to extend to him any such aid as wealth could afford.

His lordship was early destined for the profession of the law, in which he wisely began at the beginning, having started in his career as a writer's apprentice, with a view of acquiring competent knowledge of the forms and practical business of courts. After long and successful practice at the bar, he was raised to the bench, and took his seat 6th February, 1752.

Lord Karnes possessed a flow of spirits, and a vivacity of wit, and liveliness of fancy, that rendered his society exceedingly delightful, and particularly acceptable to the ladies, with whom he was in high favour. He is accused of having become in his latter years somewhat parsimonious; what truth may have been in the accusation we know not.

Notwithstanding the general gravity of his pursuits, his lordship was naturally of a playful disposition, and fond of a harmless practical joke, of which a curious circumstance is on record.

A Mr. Wingate, who had been his private tutor in early life, but who had by no means made himself agreeable to him, called upon him after he had become eminent in his profession, to take his opinion regarding the validity of certain title-deeds which he held for a sum of money advanced on land. The lawyer, after carefully examining them, looked at his old master with an air of the most profound concern, and expressed a hope that he had not concluded the bargain. The alarmed pedagogue, with a most rueful countenance, answered that he had; when Mr. Home gravely proceeded to entertain him with a luminous exposition of the defects of the deeds, showing, by a long series of legal and technical objections, that they were not worth the value of the parchment on which they were written. Having enjoyed for some time Wingate's distress, he relieved the sufferer by thus addressing him—"You may remember, sir, how you made me smart in days of yore for very small offences; now, I think our accounts are closed. Take up your papers, man, and go home with an easy mind; your titles are excellent."

Lord Karnes, so eminent as a judge and an author, was also an amateur agriculturist of considerable reputation; and his "Gentleman Farmer" was long held as a complete vade mecum on the subject of farming. Among other contemplated improvements, he entertained a notion of the practicability of concentrating the essence of manure, so as not only to render the substance more productive, but the mode of application less laborious. Conversing one day with a tenant, and seeing the immense quantity of ordinary manure he was laying on a field, Lord Karnes observed that he could make the full of his snuffbox go as far in producing a crop. "Gif ye do that," said the doubting farmer of the old school, "I'll engage to carry hame the crap in my pouch,"

Being on one occasion at Stirling, in his official capacity as a Lord of Justiciary, Kames invited Mr. Doig, a teacher there of deserved reputation, to sup with him. In the company of one so famous as the celebrated Judge, it was natural that the teacher should display his conversational acquirements to the utmost advantage. Old Kames was highly amused by the facetious talents of his guest, and for a time guardedly maintained a proper degree of etiquette; but a fresh sally of pleasantry breaking down all formality, out at last came his familiar expression—"Eh, man, but ye're a queer b—hi" The pedantry of the teacher was perhaps a little alarmed—"Thank you," said he; "I've often been termed a dog (Doig) before; but this is the first time I've ever been called a b—t! "

When Lord Kames was a young advocate at the bar, the Jesuitical Lord Lovat, who was notorious for his insincerity, had observed his talents ; and conceiving that he might, in the course of events, become serviceable to his views, resolved upon making him his friend. Lovat then lived in a villa somewhere about the head of Leith Walk, and often observed young Home pass up and down between Edinburgh and Leith. Presuming upon very slight acquaintance, his lordship one day ran out, and, clasping the advocate in his arms, began to administer some of those compliments, which he used to call hirf tveajjons—"My dear Henry," he cried, "how heartily do I rejoice in this rencontre. How does it come to pass that you never look in upon me? Almost every day I see you go past my windows, as if for the purpose of inflaming me with a more and more passionate desire for your company. Now, you are so fine-looking—so tall, and altogether so delightful in your aspect, that unless you will vouchsafe me some favour, I must absolutely die of unrequited passion." "My Lord," cried Home, endeavouring to extricate himself from his admirer's arms, "this is quite intolerable; I ken very weel I am the coarsest and most black-a-vised b—h in a' the Court o' Session. Hae dune—hae dune!" "Well, Henry," said Lovat, in an altered tone, "you are the first man I have ever met with who had the understanding to withstand flattery." "My dear Lord," said Home, swallowing the compliment with avidity, and returning the embrace, " I am rejoiced to hear you say so."

Amongst his lordship's singularities, which were not a few, was an unaccountable predilection for a certain word, more remarkable for its vigour than its elegance, which he xxsed freely even on the bench, where it certainly must have sounded very oddly. This peculiarity is pointed out in the amusing poem, entitled the "Court of Session Garland," by James Boswell—

"Alemoor the judgment as illegal blames —
"Tis equity, you b—h,' replies my Lord Kames."

About a week before his death, which was the result of extreme old age, feeling his end approaching, he went to the Court of Session, addressed all the judges separately, told them he was speedily to depart, and bade them a solemn and affectionate farewell. On reaching the door, however, he turned round, and, bestowing a last look on his sorrowing brethren, made his exit, exclaiming, "Fare ye a' weel, ye b—hes! "

Not more than four days before his demise, a friend called on his lordship, and found him, although in a state of great languor and debility, dictating to an amanuensis. He expressed his surprise at seeing him so actively employed. "Ye b—h," replied Kames, "would you have me stay with my tongue in my cheek till death comes to fetch me!" A day or two after this, he told the celebrated Dr. Cullen that he earnestly wished to be away, because he was exceedingly curious to learn the nature and manners of another world. He added —"Doctor, as I never could be idle in this world, I shall willingly perform any task that may be imposed on me in the next."

Dnring the latter part of his life, he entertained a dread that he would outlive his faculties, and was well pleased to find, from the rapid decay of his body, that he would escape this calamity by a speedy dissolution. He died, after a short illness, on the 27th of December 1782, in the 87th year of his age.

His lordship lived in the self-contained house at the head of New Street, fronting the Canongate, east side, a house which was then considered one of the first in the city.

The works of Lord Kames are—"Remarkable Decisions of the Court of Session, from 1706 to 1728," folio; "Essays upon several Subjects in Law," 1732; "Decisions of the Court of Session, from its first institution till the year 1740," 1741—two volumes were afterwards added by Lord Woodhouselee, and a Supplement by M'Grngar; "Essays on several Subjects concerning British Antiquities," 1747; "Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, in Two Parts," 1751, 8vo; "The Statute Law of Scotland, abridged, with Historical Notes," 1757, 8vo; "Historical Law Tracts," 1759, 8vo; "The Principles of Equity," 1760, folio; "Introduction to the Art of Thinking," 1761, 12mo; "Elements of Criticism," 1762, 8vo, 3 vols; "Remarkable Decisions of the Court of Session, from 1730 to 1752," 1706, folio; "Gentleman Farmer," 1772, 8vo; "Sketches of the History of Man," 1773, 2 vols., 4to; "Elucidations respecting the Common and Statute Law of Scotland," 1777, 8vo; "Select Decisions of the Court of Session, from 1752 to 1768," 1780, folio; and "Loose Hints upon Education, chiefly concerning the Culture of the Heart," 1781, 8vo.


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