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Duncan Forbes


Duncan Forbes FORBES, DUNCAN, a man whose memory is justly entitled to the veneration of his country, was born at Bunchrew, in the neighbourhood of Inverness, on the 10th of November, 1685. His great-grandfather Duncan Forbes, was of the family of lord Forbes, through that of Tolquhoun, and purchased the barony of Culloden from the laird of Mackintosh, in 1625. His great-grandmother was Janet Forbes, of the family of Corsindy, also descended from lord Forbes. But this early patriot was not more distinguished for honourable descent, than for public spirit and nobility of conduct, during the struggle for religion and liberty that marked the reign of Charles I., in which he took a decided part against the court; and, being a member of parliament, and lord provost of Inverness, must have been a partisan of no small consequence. He died in 1654, leaving his estate to his eldest son, John, who inherited his offices as well as his principles. Having acted in concert with the marquis of Argyle, he was, upon the Restoration, excepted from the act of indemnity, and had a large share of the barbarous inflictions which disgraced the reign of the restored despot. He somehow, however, contrived to accumulate money, and about the year 1670, doubled his landed estate by purchasing the barony of Ferintosh and the estate of Bunchrew. He died a little before the Revolution, leaving, by his wife, Ann Dunbar, a daughter of Dunbar of Hemprigs, in the county of Moray, a large family, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Duncan, who had received a liberal education on the continent, by which he was eminently qualified for performing a conspicuous part in that most auspicious of modern transactions. He was a member of the convention parliament, a decided presbyterian, and strongly condemned those temporizing measures which clogged the wheels of government at the time, and in consequence of which many of the national grievances remained afterwards unredressed. He was, of course, highly obnoxious to the jacobites, who, under Buchan and Cannon, in 1689, ravaged his estates of Culloden and Ferintosh; destroying, particularly in the latter district, where distillation was even then carried on upon an extensive scale, property to the amount, of fifty-four thousand pounds Scots. In consequence of this immense loss, the Scottish parliament granted him a perpetual license to distil, duty free, the whole grain that might be raised in the barony of Ferintosh, a valuable privilege, by which Ferintosh very soon became the most populous and wealthy district in the north of Scotland. He died in 1704, leaving, by his wife, Mary Innes, daughter to the laird of Innes, two sons; John, who succeeded him in his estates, and Duncan, the subject of this memoir, besides several daughters.

Of the early habits or studies of Duncan Forbes, afterwards lord president, little has been recorded. The military profession is said to have been the object of his first choice, influenced by the example of his uncle John Forbes, who was a lieutenant-colonel in the army. He had also an uncle eminent in the law, Sir David Forbes of Newhall, and, whether influenced by his example or not, we find that he entered upon the study of that science at Edinburgh, in the chambers of professor Spottiswood, in the year that his father died, 1704. The university of Edinburgh had as yet attained nothing of that celebrity by which it is now distinguished, its teachers being few in number, and by no means remarkable for acquirements; of course, all young Scotsmen of fortune, especially for the study of law, were sent to the continent. Bourges had long been famous for this species of learning, and at that university, Scotsmen had been accustomed to study. Leyden, however, had now eclipsed it, and at that famous seat of learning Duncan Forbes took up his residence in 1705. Here he pursued his studies for two years with the most unremitting diligence; having, besides the science of law, made no inconsiderable progress in the Hebrew and several other oriental languages. He returned to Scotland in 1707, where he continued the study of Scottish law till the summer of 1709, when he was, upon the 26th of July, admitted an advocate, being in the twenty-fourth year of his age.

The closest friendship had all along subsisted between the families of Argyle and Culloden; and, the former, being at this time in the zenith of power, displayed its fidelity by bestowing upon Mr Forbes, as soon as he had taken his place at the bar, the respectable appointment of sheriff of Mid-Lothian. The duke, and his brother the earl of Ilay, from the very outset of his career, in-trusted him with the management of their Scottish estates, which he is said frankly to have undertaken, though, from professional delicacy, he declined receiving any thing in the shape of fee or reward, for services which ought to have brought him some hundreds a year.

Mr Forbes, from his first appearance at the bar, was distinguished for the depth of his judgment, the strength of his eloquence, and the extent of his practice, which was such as must have precluded him from performing anything like the duties of a mere factor, which the above statement evidently supposes. That he gave his opinion, generally, when asked, upon the modes that ought to be adopted for improving the value of his grace’s property, and the comfort of his vassals in the highlands, there can be no doubt; for he continued to do this, not only to the duke, but to his neighbours generally, even after the highest duties of the judge had devolved upon him; and this was probably the utmost extent of his concern with the Argyle estate at any period of his life. That he was in a high degree generous, there cannot be a doubt; but we see no reason for supposing that he was in the habit of employing his legal talents gratuitously. He was but a younger brother, and is said to have lost the greater part of his little patrimony by an unguarded or an unfortunate speculation; yet it is certain that he lived in a splendid and rather expensive manner, the first wits and the highest noblemen of the age finding their enjoyments heightened by his company; and it is equally certain that the fruits of his professional toil were all that he could depend upon for supporting a spirit that breathed nothing but honour, and a state that knew nothing but the most stubborn independence. His business, however, rapidly rose with his rising reputation, and his fortune probably kept pace with his fame, and he very soon added to his domestic felicity, by forming a matrimonial connexion with Mary Rose, daughter to the laird of Kilravock, to whom he had been warmly attached almost from her earliest infancy. [Her husband is said to have composed, in her honour, the beautiful Scottish song, "Ah Chloris."] She was a lady of great beauty, and highly accomplished; but she died not long after their marriage, leaving him an only son, John, who eventually succeeded to the estate of Culloden. The early demise of this lady, for whom Mr Forbes seems to have had more than an ordinary passion, deeply affected him, and he never again entered into the married state.

Domestic calamity, operating upon a keen sensibility, has often withered minds of great promise, and cut off the fairest prospects of future usefulness. Happily, however, Mr Forbes did not resign himself to solitude, and the indulgence of unavailing sorrow. The circumstances of his family, and of his country, in both of which he felt a deep interest, did not, indeed, allow him to do so, had he been willing. The violence of party had been very great ever since the Revolution: it had latterly been heightened by the union, and had reached nearly its acme at this time, when the unexpected death of the queen opened the way for the peaceable accession of the new dynasty.

With a very few exceptions, such as the Grants, the Monroes, and the Rosses, who had been gained over by the Forbeses of Culloden, the Highland clans were engaged to devote their lives and fortunes in behalf of the expatriated house of Stuart; and only waited for an opportunity of asserting the cause of the pretender. The loyal clans, and gentlemen, and particularly Forbes of Culloden, were of course, highly obnoxious to the jacobite clans and, for their own preservation, were obliged to be continually on the watch, and frequently saw the brooding of the storm, when others apprehended no danger. This was eminently the case in the year after the accession of the house of Brunswick; and, accordingly, so early as the month of February, we find Monro of Fowlis writing to Culloden:—"I find the jacobites are werie uppish, both in Edinburgh and in England, so that, if ye go to the parliament, as I hope ye will, you will recommend to some trusty, faithful friend, to take care of your house of Culloden, and leave orders with your people at Ferintosh, to receive directions from me, or from your cousin George (my son), as you are pleased to call him, which you may be sure will be calculate to the support of your interest, in subordination to the public cause;"—and he adds, in a postscript to the same letter,—"The vanity, insolence, arrogance, and madness of the jacobites, is beyond all measure insupportable. I believe they must be let blood. They still have the trick of presuming upon the lenity of a moderate government. It seems God either destines them for destruction, or infatuates others to allow them to be pricks in our sides and thorns in our eyes. I have accounts from very good hands from Edinburgh, that to their certain knowledge, saddles were making in that city for dragoons to serve the pretender, and that all the popish lords, and very many popish and jacobite gentlemen, are assembled there now; so that all friends and loyal subjects to his present majesty, are advised to be upon their guard from thence, against an invasion or an insurrection, which is suddenly expected, which the jacobites expect will interrupt the meeting of the parliament." In the month of March, the same year, Culloden, writing to his brother, the subject of this memoir, has the following observation:—"You say you have no news, but we abound with them in this country. The pretender is expected every moment, and his friends all ready; but since our statesmen take no notice of this, I let it alone, and wishes they may not repent it when they cannot help it."—Culloden was returned for a member of parliament, and went up the following month (April) to London, whence he again writes to his brother as follows:—"As for your Highland neighbours, their trysts and meetings, I know not what to say; I wish we be not too secure: I can assure you, the tories here were never higher in their looks and hopes, which they found upon a speedy invasion. Whatever be in the matter, let things be so ordered that my house be not surprised."

Had those who were intrusted with the government been equally sharp-sighted, much of the evil that ensued might undoubtedly have been prevented; but they were so intent upon their places, and the pursuit of little, low intrigues, that they were caught by the insurrection, in Scotland at least, as if it had been a clap of thunder in a clear day. John Forbes’s direction, however, must have been attended to; for, when his house was surrounded by the insurgents, under Mackenzie of Coul, and Mackintosh, with their retainers, his wife refined all accommodation with them, saying, with the spirit of an ancient Roman,—"she had received the keys of the house, and the charge of all that was in it, from her husband, and she would deliver them up to no one but himself." In the absence of his brother, Duncan Forbes displayed, along with Hugh Rose of Kilravock, the most indefatigable zeal, and great judgment in the disposal of the men they could command, who were chiefly the retainers of Culloden, Kilravock, Culcairn, and the Grants, and by the assistance of lord Lovat and the Frazers, finally triumphed over the insurgents in that quarter. Nothing, indeed, could excel the spirit displayed by the two brothers of Culloden, the oldest of whom, John, spent on the occasion, upwards of three thousand pounds sterling out of his own pocket, for the public service; of which, to the disgrace of the British government, he never received in repayment one single farthing.

Though they were ardent for the cause of religion and liberty, and zealous in the hour of danger, yet, when that was over, the two brothers strongly felt the impropriety of tarnishing the triumphs of order and liberality, by a violent and vindictive inquisition into the conduct of persons, for whom so many circumstances conspired to plead, if not for mercy, at least, for a candid construction of their motives. As a Scotsman and lawyer, Duncan Forbes was averse to the project of carrying the prisoners out of the country, to be tried by juries of foreigners, and he wrote to lord Ilay, when he heard of a design to appoint him lord advocate, in order to carry on these prosecutions, that he was determined to refuse that employment. He also wrote to his brother in behalf of a contribution for the poor prisoners who had been carried to Carlisle, and were there waiting for trial. "It is certainly Christian," says he, "And by no means disloyal, to sustain them in their indigent state until they are found guilty. The law has brought them to England to be tried by foreign juries – so for it is well – but no law can hinder a Scotsman to wish that his countrymen, not hitherto condemned, should not be a derision to strangers, or perish for want of necessary defence or sustenance out of their own country." To the forfeitures he was also decidedly hostile, and some of his reasons for this hostility threw a particular light upon the state of Scotland at that period. "There are," he says, "none of the rebels who have not friends among the king’s faithful subjects, and it is not easy to guess, how far a security of this kind, unnecessarily pushed, may alienate the afflictions, even of these from the government. But in particular, as this relates to Scotland, the difficulty will be insurmountable. I may venture to say, there are not two hundred gentlemen in the whole kingdom who are not very nearly related to some one or other of the rebels. Is it possible that a man can see his daughter, his grand children, his nephews, or cousins, reduced to beggary and starving unnecessarily by a government, without thinking very ill of it, and where this is the case of a whole nation, I tremble to think what dissatisfactions it will produce against a settlement so necessary for the happiness of Britain. If all the rebels, with their wives and children, and immediate dependants, could be at once rooted out of the earth, the shock would be astonishing; but time would commit it to oblivion, and the danger would be less to the constitution, than when thousands of innocents punished with misery and want, for the offences of their friends, are suffered to wander about the country sighing out their complaints to heaven, and drawing at once the compassion and moving the indignation of every human creature." "To satisfy," he adds, "any person that the forfeitures in Scotland will scarce defray the charges of the commission, if the saving clause in favours of the creditors takes place, I offer but two considerations that, upon enquiry, will be found incontestible. First, it is certain, that of all the gentlemen who launched out into the late rebellion, the tenth man was not easy in his circumstances, and if you abate a dozen of gentlemen, the remainder upon paying their debts could not produce much money clear, nor was there any thing more open to observation, than that the men of estates, however disaffected in their principles, kept themselves within the law, when at the same time men supposed loyal, in hopes of bettering their low fortunes, broke loose. Besides, it is known that the titles by which almost all the estates in Scotland are possessed are diligences upon debts affecting those estates purchased in the proprietors’ own name or in that of some trustee: now, it is certain, that when the commissioners of enquiry begin to seize such estates, besides the debts truly due to real creditors, such a number of latent debts will be trumped up, not distinguishable from the true ones by any else than the proprietors, as will make the inquiry fruitless and the commission a charge upon the treasury, as well as a nuisance to the nation."

Such were the arguments, drawn from expediency, and the state of the country, by which forbearance on the part of the government was recommended by this excellent man, though it appears that they had little effect but to excite a suspicion of his own loyalty. In spite of all this, his character made him too powerful to be resisted. In 1716, he was rewarded for his services by the office of advocate-depute, that is, he became one of the inferior prosecutors for, the crown. On the 20th of March, he is found writing thus to his principal, the lord advocate:—"Yesterday I was qualified, the Lord knows how, as your depute. The justice clerk shows a grim sort of civility towards me, because he finds me plaguey stubborn.. I waited upon him, however, and on the other lords, to the end they might fix on a dyet for the tryall of the Episcopall clergy. The justice clerk does not smile on their prosecution, because it is not his own contrivance; and declared it could not come on sooner than the first of June; but I told him that if, as I understood was designed, the May circuit were suspended this year by act of parliament, I would require his lordship to assign a dyet sooner." In 1722, with the acquiescence of the ministry, he was returned to sit in parliament for the Inverness district of burghs; and in 1725, he obtained the high and responsible appointment of lord advocate. As the office of secretary of state for Scotland was at this time discontinued, it became part of his duty to carry on, with his majesty’s ministers, the correspondence regarding the improvements necessary to be made in her civil establishments, which he did, in a manner highly creditable to himself, and with the happiest effect for his country. The year in which he was appointed lord advocate, was marked by the introduction of the malt tax into Scotland, and the mob at Glasgow, known by the name of Shawfield’s rabble, by which its introduction was attended. This was a riot of a very scandalous character, (the magistrates of the city being deeply implicated in fomenting it,) in which nine persons were killed outright, and the soldiers who had been brought from Edinburgh for its suppression, were chased out of the city, and were glad to take refuge in Dumbarton castle. General Wade, who was in Edinburgh at the time, on his way to the Highlands, was immediately ordered to Glasgow with all the troops he could muster, and he was accompanied by the lord advocate in person, who first committed the whole of the magistrates to their own tolbooth, and afterwards, under a strong guard, sent them to Edinburgh, where they were thrown into the common jail, and it was certainly intended to proceed against them before the justiciary court. Doubts, however, were entertained of the legality of the proceedings, and whether the lord advocate had not exceeded his powers in committing the whole magistracy of a city, upon the warrant of a justice of peace, to their own jail; public feeling at the same time recovering strongly in their favour, they were by the justiciary admitted to bail, nor was their case ever again called.

In 1734, he lost his brother, John Forbes, in consequence of whose death, he fell heir to the extensive and valuable estate of Culloden. In 1736, a disgraceful affair, termed the Porteous mob, occurred in Edinburgh, in consequence of which, it was resolved to deprive the city of her privileges. Mr Forbes, on this occasion, exerted himself to the utmost in behalf of the city, and was successful in procuring many modifications to be made upon the bill before it passed the two houses of parliament. When we contemplate the condition of Scotland in those days, we scarcely know whether to wonder most at the good which Forbes was able to achieve, or the means by which he accomplished it. The period might properly be called the dark age of Scottish history, though it contained at the same time, the germs of all the good that has since sprung up in the land. The pretensions of the house of Stuart were universally received, either with favour from direct affliction to their cause, or at least without disfavour, the result of a justifiable disgust at the political status into which the country had been thrown by the union, and the unpopularity of the two first Brunswick princes. The commencement of a strict system of general taxation was new; while the miserable poverty of the country rendered it unproductive and unpopular. The great families still lorded it over their dependants, and exercised legal jurisdiction within their own domains, by which the general police of the kingdom was crippled, and the grossest local oppression practised. The remedy adopted for all these evils, which was to abate nothing, and to enforce everything, under the direction of English counsels and of Englishmen, completed the national wretchedness, and infused its bitterest ingredient into the brimful cup. How Forbes got his views or his character amidst such a scene, from the very heart of the very worst part of which he came, it is difficult to conceive; for with only one or two occasional exceptions, his papers prove that he had scarcely an associate, either in his patriotic toils or enjoyments. [We here pursue a train of remarks in the Edinburgh Review of the Culloden papers, an ample collection of the letters, &c. of the lord president, published in 1816.] However, it is sometimes true in the political, as it generally is in the commercial world, that supply is created by demand; and the very degradation of the country held out an immense reward to the man who should raise it up. No man, especially the hired servant of a disputed monarchy, could have achieved this work, except one whose heart was as amiable as his judgment was sound, and whose patriotism was as pure as it was strong. Forbes cultivated all these qualities, and not only directed the spirit of the nation, but conciliated its discordant members with a degree of skill that was truly astonishing.

The leading objects of his official and parliamentary life were suggested to him by the necessities of the country, and. they are thus ably summed up in the work just quoted:

1. To extinguish the embers of rebellion, by gaining over the jacobites. He did not try to win them, however, in the ordinary way in which alleged rebels are won; but by showing them what he called the folly of their designs, by seeking their society, by excluding them from no place for which their talents or characters gave them a fair claim, and, above all, by protecting them from proscription. It is delightful to perceive how much this policy, equally the dictate of his heart and of his head, made him be consulted and revered even by his enemies; and how purely he kept his private affections open to good men, and especially to old friends, in spite of all political acrimony or alienation. He derived from this habit one satisfaction, which seems to have greatly diverted him, that of being occasionally abused by both sides, and sometimes suspected of secret jacobitism by his own party.

2. Having thus, by commanding universal esteem as an upright and liberal man, enabled himself to do something for the country at large, his next object seems to have been, to habituate the people to the equal and regular control of the laws. It may appear at first sight unnecessary or inglorious to have been reduced to labour for an end so essential and obvious in all communities as this. But the state of Scotland must be recollected. The provincial despotism of the barons was common and horrid. Old Lovat, for example, more than once writes to him, as lord advocate, not to trouble himself about certain acts of violence done in his neighbourhood, because he was very soon to take vengeance with his own hands.

Nor was this insubordination confined to individuals or to the provinces, for it seems to have extended to the capital, and to have touched the seats of justice. There is a letter from Forbes to Mr Scroope, in the year 1732, in which he complains "that it would surely provoke any man living, as it did me, to see the last day of our term in exchequer. The effect of every verdict we recovered from the crown, stopt upon the triflingest pretences that false popularity and want of sense could suggest. If some remedy be not found for this evil we must shut up shop. It’s a pity, that when we have argued the jurys out of their mistaken notices of popularity, the behaviour of the court should give any handle to their relapsing." He persevered to prevent this by argument, and by endeavouring to get the laws, especially those concerning the revenue, altered, so as to be less unacceptable to the people.

It is chiefly on account of his adherence to this principle, that it is important to notice this subject as a distinct part of his system. If he had been disposed to govern, as is usual in turbulent times, by mere force, he had pretences enough to have made scarlet uniforms deform every hamlet in the kingdom.—But, except when rebellion or riot were raging, we cannot discover, from his papers, that he ever, on any one occasion, required any other assistance, except the ordinary authority of which law is always possessed, when administered fairly. He rigidly investigated, though he did not severely punish, popular outrages; but he was unsparing in his prosecution of the provincial injustice, by which the people were generally oppressed. The consequence of this was, that he not only introduced a comparative state of good order, but made his name a sanction, that whatever he proposed was right—and that in him the injured was sure to find a friend. When Thomas Rawlinson, an Englishman, who was engaged in a mining concern in Glengarry, (and who by the bye is said to have been the first person who introduced the philibeg into the highlands), had two of his servants murdered by the natives there, the lord advocate was the only individual to whom it ever occurred to him to apply for protection. But his power in thus taming the people, can only be fairly estimated, by perceiving how universally he was feared by the higher ranks, as the certain foe of all sorts of partial, sinister, unfair, or illiberal projects. Few men ever wrote, or were written to, with less idea of publication than he. His correspondence has only come accidentally to light about seventy years after his death. Yet we have not been able to detect a single one of his advices or proceedings, by the exposure of which, even a private gentleman, of the most delicate honour, and the most reasonable views, would have cause to feel a moment’s uneasiness. On the contrary, though living in ferocious times—in public life—the avowed organ of a party, and obliged to sway his country, by managing its greatest and greediest families, he uniformly maintains that native gentleness and fairness of mind with which it is probable that most of the men, who are afterwards hardened into corruption, begin, and resolve to continue, their career. How many other public men are there, of whose general correspondence above 500 letters could be published indiscriminately, without alarming themselves if they were alive, or their friends if they were dead ?

Having thus freed himself from the shackles of party, and impressed all ranks with a conviction of the necessity of sinking their subordinate contests in a common respect for the law, his next great view seems to have been, to turn this state of security to its proper account, in improving the trade and agriculture of the kingdom. Of these two sources of national wealth, the last seems to have engaged the smallest portion of his attention; and it was perhaps natural that it should do so. For, though agriculture precedes manufactures in the order of things, yet, for this very reason, that the cultivation of the land has gone on for ages, it is only in a more advanced era of refinement, that the attention of legislators is called to the resources it supplies, and the virtues it inspires. But projectors are immediately attracted towards improvements in manufactures, which are directly convenient by employing industry, and highly captivating, because their commencement and growth can be distinctly traced; so that they appear more the result of preparation and design than agriculture does; as to which, one generation seems only to follow the example of another, in passively taking what the scarcely assisted powers of nature give. Several efforts at trade had been made by Scotland before Forbes appeared; but it was both the cause and the evidence of the national poverty, that, slender as they were, they had failed, and that their failure almost extinguished the commercial hopes of the people. He was no sooner called into public life, than he saw what trade, chiefly internal, could do, by giving employment to the hordes of idlers who infested the country, by interesting proprietors in the improvement of their estates, and by furnishing the means both of paying and of levying taxes, and thereby consolidating the whole island into one compact body, instead of keeping the northern part a burden on the southern.

His exertions in prosecution of this great object were long and unceasing. We cannot enter here into any details; and therefore, we shall only state, in general, that he appears to have made himself master of the nature and history of almost every manufacture, and to have corresponded largely, both with the statesmen, the philosophers, and the merchants of his day, about the means of introducing them into Scotland. The result was, that he not only planted the roots of those establishments which are now flourishing all over the country, but had the pleasure (as he states in a memorial to government) of seeing "a commendable spirit of launching out into new branches" excited. He was so successful in this way, that the manufactures of Scotland are called, by more than one of his correspondents, "his sin bairns;" - an expression which he himself uses in one of his letters to Mr Scroope, in which he says that one of his proposals "was disliked by certain chiefs, from its being a child of mine."

Notwithstanding the immense good which he thus accomplished, and the great judgment and forbearance he evinced in pushing his improvements, it is amusing to observe the errors into which he fell, with respect to what are now some of the clearest principles of taxation, and of political economy. These, in general, were the common errors of too much regulation; errors, which it requires the firmest hold of the latest discoveries in these sciences to resist, and which were peculiarly liable to beset a man, who had been obliged to do so much himself in the way of direction and planning. One example may suffice—being the strongest we have been able to find. In order to encourage agriculture, by promoting the use of malt, he presented to government a long detailed scheme, for preventing, or rather punishing, the use of tea.

"The cause," says he, "of the mischief we complain of, is evidently the excessive use of tea; which is now become so common, that the meanest familys, even of labouring people, particularly in burroughs, make their morning’s meal of it, and thereby wholly disuse the ale, which heretofore was their accustomed drink: and the same drug supplies all the labouring woemen with their afternoon’s entertainments, to the exclusion of the twopenny."

The remedy for this, is, to impose a prohibitory duty on tea, and a penalty on those who shall use this seducing poison, "if they belong to that class of mankind in this country, whose circumstances do not permit them to come at tea that pays the duty." The obvious difficulty attending this scheme strikes him at once; and he removes it by a series of provisions, calculated to describe those who are within the tea line, and those who are beyond it. The essence of the system is, that when any person is suspected, "the onus probandi of the extent of his yearly income may be laid on him;" and that his own oath may be demanded, and that of the prosecutor taken. "These provisions," the worthy author acknowledges, "are pretty severe;" and most of his readers may be inclined to think them pretty absurd. But it must be recollected, that he is not the only person, (especially about his own time, when the first duty of a statesman was to promote the malt tax), who has been eloquent and vituperative on the subject of this famous plant. Its progress, on the contrary, has been something like the progress of truth; suspected at first, though very palatable to those who had courage to taste it; resisted as it encroached; abused as its popularity seemed to spread; and establishing its triumph at last, in cheering the whole land, from the palace to the cottage, only by the slow and resistless efforts of time, and its own virtues. Nor are the provisions for enforcing his scheme so extraordinary as may at first sight appear. The object of one half of our existing commercial regulations, is to insure the use of our own produce, and the encouragement of our own industry; and his personal restrictions, and domiciliary visits, are utterly harmless, when compared with many excise regulations of the present day; and still more so, when contrasted with certain parts of the recent system for levying the tax upon property. We have noticed the example, chiefly for the sake of showing that Forbes’s views were as sound upon these subjects, as those of the persons by whom he has been succeeded; and that, if we could oftener withdraw our eyes from the objects of their habitual contemplation, we should oftener see the folly of many things which appearto us correct, merely because they are common.

Being appointed president of the court of session in 1737, he applied himself with great zeal to a duty which has conferred lasting service on his country that of improving the regulations of his court. Previously, the chief judge, by having it in his power to postpone a cause, or to call it at his pleasure, was enabled sometimes to choose a particular time for its decision, when certain judges whom he knew to have made up their minds, were absent. Forbes put an end to this flagrant error in the constitution of the court, by rendering it impossible for the judges to take up a case except as it stood on the roll. He also exerted himself to prevent any accumulation of undetermined causes.

The character of the highlanders and the improvement of the highlands, had all along been objects of the first magnitude with the lord president, nor did he lose sight of them, when his elevation to the first place in Scottish society brought him to be conversant with others equally important. Viewing the aspect of the political horizon, and aware that the clans in such times as appeared to be approaching, could scarcely fail to fall into the hands of political agitators, he digested a plan (the very same for which Chatham received so much applause for carrying into effect), for embodying the most disaffected of them into regiments, under colonels of tried loyalty, but officered by their own chieftains, who would thus be less liable to be tampered with by the emissaries of the Stuarts, and be insensibly led to respect an order of things which, it might be presumed, they disliked, chiefly because they did not comprehend it, and from which as yet they did not suppose they had derived any benefit. This proposal the lord president communicated to the lord justice clerk, Milton, who reported it to lord Ilay, by whom it was laid before Sir Robert Walpole, who at once comprehended and admired it. When, however, he laid it before the council, recommending it to be carried into immediate effect, the council declared unanimously against it. "Were the plan of the Scottish judge," said they, "adopted, what would the patriots say? Would they not exclaim, Sir Robert Walpole had all along a design upon the constitution? He has already imposed upon us a standing army, in addition to which he is now raising an army of barbarians, for the sole purpose of enslaving the people of England." Walpole was too well acquainted with the temper of the patriots, as they called themselves, not to feel the full force of this reasoning, and the measure was given up, though he was fully convinced that it was conceived in wisdom, and would have been infallibly successful in its operation.

Though his advice was neglected, the event showed that his suspicions were well founded. The disturbed state of Europe encouraged the jacobites, particularly in the highlands, to sign an association for the restoration of the pretender, which was sent to him at Rome, in the year 1742. During the following years, there was a perpetual passing and repassing between the court of France, the pretender, and the association, without the knowledge of the most vigilant observers on the part of the government. So cautiously, indeed, did the highland chieftains conduct themselves, that even the lord president, who was intimately acquainted with their characters and propensities, seems to have been perfectly unaware of any immediate rising, when he was acquainted by a letter from Macleod of Macleod, that Charles was actually arrived, and had by young Clanronald summoned himself and Sir Alexander Macdonald to join his standard. The truth was, both Macleod and Macdonald had pledged themselves to prince Charles; but a French army to accompany him, and military stores, were positive parts of the engagement, which, not being fulfilled, led them to hesitate, and they were willing to fortify their hesitation by the advice of the president, whom they had long found to be an excellent counsellor, and whose views upon the subject they were probably anxious in a covert way to ascertain. Macleod of course wrote to the president, that such a person was on the coast, with so many Irish or French officers, stating them greatly beyond the real number, and he adds, "His views, I need not tell you, was to raise all the highlands to assist him—Sir Alexander Macdonald and I not only gave no sort of countenance to these people, but we used all the interest we had with our neighbours, to follow the same prudent method, and I am persuaded we have done it with that success, that not a man north of the Grampians will give any sort of assistance to this mad rebellious attempt—As it can be of no use to the pubic to know whence you have this information, it is, I fancy, needless to mention either of us; but this we leave in your own breast as you are a much better judge of what is or what is not proper to be done. I have wrote to none other, and as our friendship and confidence in you is without reserve, so we doubt not of your supplying our defects properly—Sir Alexander is here and has seen this scrawl—Young Clanronald has been here with us, and has given us all possible assurances of his prudence." The above letter was dated August 3d, 1745, and speaks of Charles as only on the coast, though he had in reality landed, and the assurance of young Clanronald’s prudence was a perfect farce. It was indeed, for obvious reasons, the aim of the rebels to lull the friends of government in their fatal security, and we have no doubt that Clanronald acting upon this principle, gave the assurance to Macleod and Macdonald for the very purpose of being communicated to the lord president, and it has been supposed that the misstatements in this letter laid the foundation for that pernicious counsel which sent Sir John Cope to the north, leaving the low country open to Charles, in consequence of which he overcame at once the most serious difficulties he had to contend with, want of provisions and want of money, made himself master of the capital of Scotland, and, to the astonishment of himself, as well as of all Europe, penetrated into the very heart of England.

Being now certain that there was danger, though its extent was cautiously concealed from him, the lord president, after pointing out to the marquis of Tweeddale, who at that time was a principal manager in Scottish affairs, a few things necessary to be done in order to give full effect to his exertions, hastened to the north, and arrived at Culloden house on the 13th of August, six days before Charles unfurled his standard in Glenfinnin, and while many of his most devoted admirers were yet at a great loss whether to come forward to his assistance, or to remain undeclared till circumstances should enable them more accurately to calculate probabilities. To all these nothing could have been more unwelcome than the presence of the lord president, to whom they, almost to a man, were under personal obligations. Lovat waited upon and dined with his lordship the very day after his arrival, and requested his advice, assuring him that his wishes, as well as his interest, still led him to support the present royal family. Macleod of Macleod and Sir Alexander Macdonald of Skye also wrote to him, immediately on his arrival, in a loyal strain, though their presence was certainly expected at the unfurling of the insurgent standard at Glenfinnin, which was so soon to take place. The letters are not so very explicit as might have been wished, and, till the advice and the presence of the lord president encouraged them, these gentlemen were undoubtedly not cordial for the government. Lovat most certainly was not, and had Charles, according to his advice, come east by Inverness, he would no doubt have joined him on the instant. But the clans having rushed down into the Lowlands, while Sir John Cope, with the whole regular troops that were in Scotland, came north, added weight to the lord president’s remonstrances, and for a time neutralized all who were not previously committed, till the unfortunate affair of Gladamuir gave a new impulse to their hopes. Sir Alexander Macdonald and Macleod of Macleod were assured by a special messenger, that their past conduct was not imputed to any want of zeal for the cause or want of affection to the person of Charles, who considered their services to be now more useful to him than ever, and was ready to receive them as his best friends. Lovat had a message of the same kind, and, sure that now his right master, as he called him, would prevail, "set himself to forward the marching of his Frasers without delay. Still he continued his correspondence with the president, and laboured hard to keep up the farce of loyalty, as did Macleod of Macleod at the very moment when he was pledging his faith to that arch hypocrite to send his Macleods to join the Frasers, the Mackintoshes and the Mackensies at Corryarrack, within a given number of days. Happily for Macleod, he was greatly under the influence of Sir Alexander Macdonald, whose judgment the lord president had completely opened upon the subject, and he not only did not fulfil his engagement with Lovat, but actually raised and headed his men to fight on the opposite side.

The Frasers, in the mean time, formed a scheme for seizing upon the house of Culloden, and either killing or making the president a prisoner. The execution of this plot was intrusted to the laird of Foyers, who made the attempt on the night of Tuesday, the 15th of October, the day when the clans were engaged upon honour to assemble at the pass of Corryarrack, for the purpose of reinforcing the army of Charles at Edinburgh. The president; however, who, had arms been his profession, would probably have been as celebrated a soldier as he was a lawyer, knew his situation, and the men he lived among, better than to suffer himself to be so surprised. The castle itself was naturally strong; several pieces of cannon were planted upon its rampart; and it was occupied by a garrison, able and willing to defend it; so that, leaving behind them one of their number wounded, the assailants were obliged to content themselves with carrying off some sheep and cattle, and robbing the gardener and the house of an honest weaver, who, it would appear, lived under the protection of the president. Like all other projectors of wicked things which fail in the execution, Lovat seems to have been very much ashamed of this affair, and he was probably the more so, that the Macleods, the Macdonalds, &c., who, that same day, were to have joined his clan at Corryarrack, had not only not kept, their word, but were actually on the road to take their orders from the president, which compelled him once more to send, in place of troops, an apology to Charles, with an abundance of fair promises, in which he was at all times sufficiently liberal. The president had assured him, that, by killing and eating his sheep in broad daylight, the men who had made the attack upon his house were all known, but that if they did no more harm he forgave them; only he wished they would send back the poor gardener and weaver their things, and if they sent not back the tenant his cattle, they knew he must pay for them. Lovat, with well-affected concern, and high eulogiums upon his lordship’s goodness, declares the actors in this villanous attempt to have been ruffians without the fear of God or man, and that he has ordered his son and Gortuleg to send back all the plunder, particularly his lordship’s sheep, which he was ready to give double value for, rather than that his lordship should want them, and, in case they should not be found, offered to divide with him one hundred fat wedders, seeing that he was under greater obligations to him and his family than all the sheep, oxen cows, and horses, he ever possessed, were worth; "And I beg, my lord," he adds, "that you may not be in the least apprehensive that any of those rogues or any in my country go and disturb your tenants, for I solemnly swore to Gortuleg that, if any villain or rascal of my country durst presume to hurt or disturb any of your lordship’s tenants, I would go personally, though carried in a litter, and see them seized and hanged. So, my dear lord, I beg you may have no apprehension that any of your tenants will meet with disturbance, so long as I live in this country; and I hope that my son that represents me will follow my example, so let monarchies, government, and commonwealths take up fits of revolutions and wars, for God’s sake, my dear lord, let us live in good friendship and peace together." It was but a short time when, after the retreat from England, Charles was met at Glasgow by a messenger from Lovat, requesting him to send north a party to seize Inverness, and, if possible secure the lord president, who, he affirmed, had done him more harm than any man living, having, by his influence, prevented more than ten thousand men from joining him. Circumstances of another kind than Lovat’s advice or request brought Charles to Inverness, and the lord president, along with lord Loudon was under the necessity of taking refuge in the island of Skye, where he remained till after the battle of Culloden, when he returned to reap, as many other good men have done, neglect and ingratitude for all his services. Of these services and of this neglect, the reader will not be displeased to find the following graphic description from his own pen. It is a letter to Mr George Ross, then at London, inclosing letters on the same subject to Mr Pelham, Mr Scroope, and the duke of Newcastle, date, Inverness, May 13th, 1746.

"Dear George, my peregrinations are now over. Some account of my adventures you surely have had from different hands; to give an exact one is the work of more time than I can at present afford. The difficulties I had to struggle with were many; the issue, on the main, has been favourable; and upon a strict review, I am satisfied with my own conduct. I neither know nor care what critics, who have enjoyed ease, in safety, may think. The commissions for the independent companies I disposed of in the way that, to me seemed the most frugal and profitable to the public; the use they have already been of to the public is very great, preventing any accession of strength to the rebels, before they marched into England, was no small service; the like prevention, in some degree, and the distraction of their forces, when the duke was advancing, was of considerable use; and now they are, by the duke, employed under the command of E. Loudon, in Glengarry, and must be the hands by which the rebels are to be hunted in their recesses. My other letter of this date gives the reason why the returns of the officers’ names, &c. was not soonest made. I hope the certificate will be sufficient to put them upon the establishment, and to procure the issuing of money for them. The returns of the several companies in the military way E. Loudon will take care of. What distressed us most in this country, and was the real cause why the rebels came to head after their flight from Stirling, was the want of arms and money, which, God knows, had been enough called for and expected. Had these come in time, we could have armed a force sufficient to have prevented them looking at us on this side Drumachter. The men were prepared, several hundreds assembled in their own counties, and some hundreds actually on the march; but unluckily the ship that brought the few arms that were sent, and the sum of money that came, did not arrive in our road sooner than the very day on which the rebels made themselves master of the barrack of Ruthven. It was then too late to fetch unarmed men from distances, it was even unsafe to land the arms and the money; so we were forced to suffer them remain on board and to retreat with the force we had to preserve them for the further annoyance of the enemy. Another ill consequence, the scrimping us of money had, was that,—as there were a great many contingent services absolutely necessary, and as all the money that could be raised upon lord Loudon’s credit and mine was not sufficient to answer these extraordinary services,—we were obliged to make free with the cash remitted for the subsistence of the companies. This at the long run will come out as broad as it is long when accounts are made up and allowances made for the contingent expense, but in the meantime it saddles us with the trouble of settling and passing an account.

"If any one will reflect on the situation I was in, and consider what I had to do, he will soon be convinced that the expense I laid out could not be small. So far as I could command money of my own, you will easily believe it was employed without hesitation; and of that I say nothing at present. But when the expedient proposed by the marquis of Tweeddale of taking bills to be drawn on Mr Pelham failed, I had no resource but to take up money where I could find it, from well disposed persons, on my own proper notes. That money so picked up was at the time of great service; and now that peace is restored, the gentlemen with great reason expect to be repaid. You can guess how ill I like a dun, and I should hope now that the confusions are over, there can be no great difficulty in procuring me a remittance, or leave to draw upon Mr Pelham or some other proper person, to the extent of the sum thus borrowed, which does not exceed one thousand five hundred pounds sterling. I am heartily tired of this erratic course I have been in, but as the prevention of any future disturbance, is a matter of great moment, and which requires much deliberation and some skill, if those on whom it lies to frame the scheme, for that purpose, imagine I can be of any use to them, I should not grudge the additional fatigue of another journey; but it is not improbable their resolutions may be already taken," &c. There is in this letter an honest feeling, and a frankly expressed conviction of the value of his services; and though possessed with a prophetic anticipation of their being latterly to be overlooked, an equally open and straight forwardly expressed determination to continue them as long as they should be useful to his country, strongly indicative of that high minded devotion to the best interests of his species, which peculiarly characterized this great man. At the same time, there is manifested the most delicate feeling with regard to the money part of the transaction. What portion, and that was a large one, had been advanced from his own treasury he makes for the present no account of; but he pleads in the most gentlemanly manner in behalf of those who had assisted him at the time, and could scarcely be expected to have the same disinterested regard to the public service, and the same degree of philosophic patience. They expect with reason, he remarks, to be paid, and he interposes in the most delicate manner, his own repugnance to be dunned, as the most pressing of all arguments in their favour. Surely never was so small a request, and so exceedingly well founded, so modestly prepared, yet never perhaps did a reasonable one meet with a more careless reception. Upwards of a month elapsed before he had an answer from George Ross, with a bill for five hundred pounds, which perhaps was not for his own use. It has been generally said that he never received one farthing, and to his generous spirit, if he received only this small portion, which we dare not affirm he did, taken in connexion with the manner in which he did receive it, it must have been nearly, if not more mortifying than if he had not. His grace of Newcastle took no notice of his letter till he was under the necessity of writing to him upon another subject, two months afterwards, and then in the most cold and formal manner imaginable. Of any reply from Pelham and Scroope we have not found a vestige, and would fondly hope that courtiers as they were, they had so much grace remaining as to be unable to put pen to paper upon a business so disgraceful.

To a mind so pure and so gentle as was that of president Forbes, this ingratitude on the part of the government must have been exceedingly painful; but we do not believe that it was the only or the principal thing that weighed down his spirit. To the morality of courts and the gratitude of courtiers he was in theory at least no stranger, and as a prudent and practical man, must have been in some measure prepared to grapple with them; but for the base duplicity and the ingratitude of his friends and neighbours, many of whom had betrayed his confidence in the grossest manner, he could scarcely be prepared, and they must have affected him deeply. These, while they wrung his heart with the most pungent feelings of sorrow, furnished to the ignorant, the suspicious, and the envious, fruitful topics of detraction and misrepresentation, against which, he must have been aware, the best intentions and the most upright actions have too often been found to afford no protection. The care of the highlands had been imposed upon him for many years, he had been a father and a friend to almost every principal family they contained, and with few exceptions, these families had in return made the strongest professions of loyalty to the government, and of friendship and affection to himself. This they had done too, with such apparent sincerity, as induced him to report them perfectly loyal, at the very moment they were signing associations, purchasing arms, and ready to appear in the field against the government. How must he have felt to see the very men he had saved from total destruction, procured them the favourable notice of the government, and even high and honourable situations, rushing, from mistaken views of their own or their country’s interests, upon the ruin of both! It was this, we have no doubt, gave the secret but incurable wound, which, though he continued to perform the duties of his station with inflexible firmness, and with imperturbable patience, brought him by slow degrees to an untimely grave.

Though the lord president continued to discharge his office with his usual fidelity and diligence, and though be uttered no complaints, it had long been matter of grief to his friends to observe his health rapidly declining, and in the month of November, it was judged necessary to send for his son from England, who arrived only in time to receive his last advice and blessing. He died on the 10th day of December, 1747, in the sixty-second year of his age. The same day he died, the following memorandum was made by his son: "My father entered into the everlasting life of God, trusting, hoping, and believing through the blood of Christ, eternal life and happiness. When I first saw my father upon the bed of death, his blessing and prayer to me was—‘My dear John, you have just come in time to see me die. May the great God of heaven and earth bless and preserve you! You have come to a very poor fortune; partly through my own extravagance, and partly through the oppression of power. I am sure you will forgive me, because what I did was with a good intention. I know you to be an honest hearted lad. Andrew Mitchell loves you affectionately; he will advise you, and do what he can for you. I depend upon Scroope, too, which you may let him know. I will advise you never to think of coming into parliament. I left some notes with the two William Forbeses in case I had not seen you. They are two affectionate lads, and will be able to help you in some affairs better than you would have done yourself. John Hossack will help you in your affairs in the north. My heart bleeds for poor John Steel; I recommended him to you. When I was in the north I paid some considerably large sums that I never dreamed of before, towards defraying the charges occasioned by the rebellion. There is but one thing I repent me of in my whole life,—not to have taken better care of you. May the great God of heaven and earth bless and preserve you! I trust in the blood of Christ. Be always religious, fear and love God. You may go, you can be of no service to me here." This shows how deeply this first of patriots felt the unrequited sacrifices he had made for his country, though he had never allowed these feelings to interfere with the discharge of his public duties. His fears were certainly not without foundation, for his estate, in consequence of the sacrifices he had made, was encumbered with debts to the amount of thirty thousand pounds sterling; and for several years after his death, there did not appear to be any possibility of going on with it, but by selling the one half to preserve the other. Matters, however, proceeded at Culloden much better than was expected. In 1749, the government bestowed a pension of four hundred pounds sterling 6-year upon John Forbes, the lord president’s son, a worthy man, but possessed of no great talents for public business; and warned by the example, and profiting by the prudent advice of his father, he spent his days in retirement, probably with a higher enjoyment of life than if he had been surrounded with all the splendours of the most exalted station, and in less than thirty years, had not only cleared his estate of all encumbrances, but added to it considerably, by the purchase of contiguous lands, and thus, in his case, were verified the words of inspiration, "The good man is merciful and lendeth, and his seed is blessed."

Though the signal services of the lord president Forbes were overlooked by those who ought most highly to have esteemed them, and whose proper province it was to have rewarded them, they were not lost sight of by his grateful countrymen, all of whom seem to have regarded his death as a national calamity. He had been a public character upwards of thirty years, during which, scarcely one motion had been made for the public benefit but what had originated with, or had received its most powerful support from him. In the infant manufactures of his country he took unceasing interest, and his upright and pure spirit breathed into her tribunals of justice an order and an equitable impartiality to which they were before total strangers, and which to this day happily never has forsaken them. Besides the new order of court, as to the hearing of causes, which he had the merit of introducing, and which has been already alluded to, he wrought great and happy changes in the manner of the judges. Before his time, the senators often delivered their opinions with a warmth that was highly indecorous, detracting greatly from the dignity of the court and the weight and authority of its decisions: this, by the candour, the strict integrity, and the nice discernment, combined, with that admirable command of temper, which marked his character, he was enabled completely to overcome, and to introduce in its place a dignified urbanity and a gentlemanly deference among the members of court to the opinions of each other, which succeeding, lords president have found no difficulty to sustain.

The following character has been drawn of him by a late historian, with which we shall conclude this memoir. "In person, the lord president Forbes was elegant and well formed, his countenance open and animated, his manner dignified, but easy and prepossessing. His natural talents were of the very first order, enlarged by an excellent education, completely disciplined and fully matured by habits of intense study, and of minute, and at the same time extensive observation; and they were all employed most honourably and conscientiously in the real business of life. His learning was profound and extensive, beyond that of his compeers; and, in forcible, manly, and persuasive eloquence at the Scottish bar, he had no competitor. Yet with all this vast and visible superiority, he was never dogmatical. His was not the paltry ambition that could gratify itself by uttering tiny conceits or sparkling witticisms; nor did he ever, like too many who have shone in his profession, attempt to dispose of an unmanageable subject by heaping upon it a mountain of words, or enveloping it in a whirlwind of bombast and nonsense; every thing like artifice he held in abhorrence; and truth and justice being at all times the objects he aimed at, the law of kindness was ever on his lips, and an impress of candour and sincerity gave an oracular dignity to every sentiment which he uttered. Of the volume of inspiration, which he could consult with advantage in the original tongues, he was a diligent student; and that he had experienced its transforming influence in no mean degree was evident from the tone of his mind, and the whole tenor of his life and conversation. Like another of Scotland’s most eminent benefactors, John Knox,—with whom alone, from the magnitude and for the difficulty of his services, though they were considerably dissimilar, he deserves to be compared—he probably felt himself called upon rather for active personal exertion than for those efforts of mind, which can be well and successfully made only in the seclusion of the closet, and through the medium of the press; of course his writings are not numerous, but they exhibit, particularly his Thoughts on Religion; Natural and Revealed, strong traces of a pure, a pious, and an original mind. In private life he was every thing that is amiable—as a husband and a father, affectionately tender—as a friend, generous in the extreme, often distressing himself that he might fully and seasonably perform the duties implied in the character. His neighbours he was always ready to oblige; and merit of every description found in him a prompt, a steady, and a disinterested patron. He was sprung from a family whose hospitality had been proverbial for ages; and when his health, which was generally delicate, and his numerous avocations would permit, few men could enjoy a bottle and a friend with a more exquisite relish. To be of his party, in these moments of relaxation, was a felicity eagerly coveted by the greatest and the wittiest men of his age; and to sum up all in one word, such was the sterling worth of his character, that he was universally feared by the bad, and as universally loved by the good of all parties."


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