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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Lord Cullen, of the Court of Session


Robert Cullen, Esq., was' the eldest son of the celebrated Dr. William Cullen. He studied at the University of this city, and was admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates on the 15th of December, 1764. On the death of Lord Alva, in 1796, he was raised to the bench, and, in 1799, succeeded Lord Swinton as a Lord of Justiciary.

The practice of Lord Cullen as a barrister was extensive. In addition to his legal knowledge, which was considerable, he was distinguished as an acute and logical reasoner. His written pleadings were remarkable for neatness and elegance of composition—a circumstance attributable to his literary acquirements and highly cultivated mind. He was a contributor to the Mirror and Lounger; and the various essays from his pen have been much admired. His manners were polished and courteous, and he possessed a happy gaiety of spirit, which rendered his company peculiary attractive. He was one of the few individuals who were spoken favourably of by the Eev. George William Auriol Hay Drummond, in his "Town Eclogue."

"Let justice veil her venerable head,
When dulness sits aloft in robes of red!
Though with delight we upright Cockburn see,
With courteous Cullen, deep-read Woodhouselee;
In the Chief Baron's bland, ingenuous face,
Read all the worth and talent of his race."

In his boyish days, Lord Cullen was an excellent mimic, and often in later years took pleasure in mentioning the exploits which his talent in this way enabled him to perform. His father, Professor Cullen, used to keep his loose money in a desk-drawer in his study, from which he was in the habit of supplying Mrs. Cullen with whatever sums she might be in want of, usually handing over the notes without being at the trouble of looking round. Observing this, and when pressed by any juvenile contingency, the youthful mimic, imitating the somewhat querulous voice of his mother, found the means of drawing upon the old man more frequently than the latter would have been inclined to submit to. As the demands in this way multiplied, the Doctor began to grumble. "What! were you not here already?" said he, with some warmth, to his good lady, as she one day requested a few pounds. "No, indeed, I was not, my dear," was her reply. "Don't tell me that," rejoined the Professor, evidently chafed at what he considered a false assertion; while the lady, unable to account for the late unkindness of her husband, indignantly resented the imputation of her veracity. The misunderstanding might have been carried far enough, but for the discovery which the awakened vigilance of the Doctor enabled him to make on the next occasion. Casting his eyes round, he was astonished to find the mystery cleared up in the culpability of his son.

Another anecdote of his imitative talent may be given. Long after he had assumed the toga, he continued his imitations, and was very successful in catching the peculiarities of many of the leading members of the College of Justice. His attainments in this way having reached the ears of the then Lord President, he was invited by the legal dignitary to a dinner party, where, after the cloth was removed, he exhibited a succession of imitations of the most eminent practising barristers. His lordship was highly delighted, and hinted that he need not limit himself to the bar, but that he might, without offence, make free with the bench. Cullen, in the excitement of the moment, took the hint thus given, and quickly the whole race of "paper lords" passed rapidly before the eyes of the astonished President, who applauded the actor warmly for his astonishing powers of mimicry. "But," said his lordship, "why am I excepted? I cannot really allow this." Cullen would not for worlds take off his host; the latter insisted, and in an evil moment the guest yielded ; and the Lord President of the Court of Session was given to the life. Those present roared with laughter, with one solitary exception. Who the stoical individual was who did not share the general mirth may be guessed, when we mention that the giver of the feast, after an unsuccessful attempt to affect indifference, and unable longer to contain his wrath, at last with much bitterness, ejaculated—"Very amusing, Mr. Robert —very amusing, traly; ye're a clever lad—very clever; but just let me tell you—that's no the ivay to rise at the bar!"

Lord Cullen died on the 28th November, 1810. He had entered in latter life into marriage with a servant-girl of the name of Russell, by whom, however, he had no issue. Although a woman of rather plain appearance, and destitute of fortune, she nevertheless, after his lordship's death, obtained for a second husband a gentleman of property in the West Indies, where she died in 1818.


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