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Significant Scots
Francis Garden


GARDEN, FRANCIS, a distinguished judge under the designation of lord Gardenstone, was born at Edinburgh on the 24th of June, 1721. He was the second son of Alexander Garden to Troup, in Banffshire, and of Jane, daughter of Sir Francis Grant, lord Cullen, one of the judges of the court of session. He followed the usual course of education at the grammar school and university, and being destined for the bar, entered as a member of the faculty of advocates on the 14th of July, 1744. During the earlier stages of his professional career, Mr Garden was distinguished for his conviviality, at a period when, especially in Scotland, it must be admitted that real proficiency was requisite to procure fame in that qualification. A strong hale body and an easy benevolent mind gave him a particular taste for social hilarity; had he lived at a different age, he might have turned these qualities into a different channel, but they suited with the period, and he accordingly became the prince of jolly livers. Nor, when he reached that period of life when certain bodily feelings generally make ancient bacchanalians look back with bitterness on their youthful frolics, did his ever contented mind lose its equanimity. If he was no longer able to indulge himself he bore the indulgences of others with charity. His mind was of the same overflowing description, and continued, after the body was disabled, to perform its part in the social circle. Many characteristic anecdotes have been preserved of his convivial propensities during his early practice at the bar. On one occasion, during the time when prince Charles Edward was in possession of Edinburgh, he and a Mr Cunningham (afterwards general) are said to have so far preferred wine and oysters, to watching and warding, that, when sent as a patrol by Sir John Cope, to watch the coast towards Musselburgh, instead of proving a protection to the army, they were themselves taken prisoners, just when the feast was at its highest, by a single individual, who happened to be prowling in the neighbourhood. It must, however, be allowed, that at that period, there were not many inducements to exertion held out to Scotsmen of the higher rank. There were few men eminent for their genius, or even for the more passive acquirements of classical learning, which distinguished the neighbouring country. The bar was the only profession which, from its respectability and emoluments, offered itself as a resource to the younger sons of the landed proprietors, then sufficiently poor; and while the learning and information at that time required by its members in their professional capacity were not great, the jealousy of England, just after the Union, allowed but to one family in Scotland, the rational prospect that time and labour might be well spent in preparing for the duties of a statesman. The state of the country and its political influence were singularly discouraging to the upper classes, and from many naturally active spirits being left unemployed, they turned to indolence or unprofitable amusements those talents which might have rendered them the best ornaments of their country. The nation had then, indeed, begun by degrees to shake off its lethargy, and by the time the subject of this memoir had advanced a little in life, he became one of the most admired and beloved social members of a circle of illustrious philosophers and historians, whose names are dear to the memory of their countrymen, as those who first roused their slumbering energies.

On the 14th of July, 1744, Mr Garden was made sheriff of Kincardineshire, and he soon after showed the soundness of his perception and the liberality of his mind, by stretching forth his hand to assist the modest talent and elegant taste of the author of the Minstrel. To those who may, from its lingering remnants at the present time, have formed any idea of the stately coldness preserved by the higher classes in Scotland towards their inferiors, in the middle of the eighteenth century, it will operate as no small evidence of the discernment and kindness of the judge, that he began his acquaintance with the poet and philosopher, when that individual was only a cotter boy sitting in a field writing with a pencil. In August, 1759, Mr Garden was chosen one of the legal assessors of the town of Edinburgh; and as a higher step in professional advancement, in April, 1761, accepted office in the latter days of Mr Pitt’s administration, as joint solicitor-general of Scotland, along with Mr James Montgomery, afterwards lord chief baron. What were his professional attainments as a lawyer, it is at this distance of time difficult to determine, as he has left behind him no professional work, the only index which can lead to a knowledge of his mere technical attainments as a barrister. As a pleader, however, we know he was highly estimated—as his connexion with a renowned lawsuit, which spread its fame over all Europe, and created in Scotland a ferment of disputation inferior only to the heat of religious controversy, has well shown. The appearance made by Mr Garden in the Douglas cause rendered his name better known, and his talents more appreciated, than generally falls to the lot of a mere forensic pleader. He was early connected with the proceedings of this great case, in the Tournelle process in France, where he appeared as senior to his future friend and literary associate, the classical Burnet of Monboddo, and is generally reported to have left behind him a high opinion of his learning, and the powers of his eloquence, even when clothed in a foreign language. He became connected with the case on its transference to England, but amidst its multifarious changes, he was raised to the bench as successor to lord Woodhall on the 3rd of July, 1764, in time to act as a judge on the case, then very different in its aspect and material from what it was when he performed the part of a counsel.

In 1762, Mr Garden had purchased the estate of Johnston, in Kincardineshire, and in 1765, he commenced those improvements on his estate, which, if not among the most brilliant acts of his life, are perhaps among those which deserve to be longest and best remembered. At the time when the estate of Johnston was purchased, the village of Lawrencekirk, if a village it could then be called, contained but fifty-four inhabitants, living there, not because it was a centre of commercial or industrial circulation, but because chance had brought a few houses to be built in each other’s vicinity. Lord Gardenstone caused a new line of street to be planned out on his own property; he gave extremely moderate leases of small farms, and ground for building upon, to the last, for the period of 100 years; he established a linen manufactory, built an inn, and with a singular attention to the minute comforts and happiness of his rising flock, seldom equalled by extensive projectors, he founded a library for the use of the villagers. To assist the progress of society in reducing men dispersed over the country into the compact limits of a town, is an easy, and generally a profitable process, but to found towns or villages where there is no previous spirit of influx, is working to a certain degree against nature, and can only be accomplished by labour and expense. Although the benevolent mind of lord Gardenstone, caused a mutual understanding and kindness betwixt himself and his tenants, which mere commercial speculators fail in producing, yet many of his best formed plans for the prosperity of the village proved unavailing, and he was frequently subject to disappointment and needless expense. He seems, however, to have felt the pleasure of being kind without profiting himself. At much expense he supported a printfield and manufacture of stockings, and purchased a royal charter erecting Lawrencekirk into a burgh of barony, with a regular magistracy. He had the satisfaction before his death to find the population increase to five hundred souls, and in a letter to the inhabitants which he published late in life, he says,—"I have tried in some measure a variety of the pleasures which mankind pursue; but never relished any thing so much as the pleasure arising from the progress of my village."

In 1776, lord Gardenstone, in addition to his seat on the civil bench, was appointed to fill the office of a lord commissioner of justiciary, or ordinary judge in the criminal court, as successor to lord Pitfour. Nine years afterwards, having succeeded, by the death of his elder brother, to the extensive estate of Troup, he relieved himself for ever from some of his laborious judicial duties, and for a time from them all, and resolved to attempt to recruit his failing constitution, by making a pleasure tour through the continent Accordingly, in 1786, he passed into France by Dover, visiting Paris and Lyons, remaining during part of the winter at Marseilles. In the ensuing spring he passed to Geneva, where he saw the ruined remnant of Voltaire’s village at Ferney, from which he was able to draw a comparison much in favour of his own, where the people enjoyed permanent political rights, which would render them independent of any future superior who might not be disposed to imitate the beneficence of the original patron. Lord Gardenstone spent the remainder of his allotted time in traversing the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy; making, in his progress, a collection of natural curiosities, and committing to writing a number of cursory remarks on the men and manners he encountered, and the works of art he had seen on his tour or met any where else, part of which were submitted to the world in two duodecimo volumes, denominated "Travelling Memorandums made in a Tour upon the Continent of Europe in the year 1792," and a remaining volume was published after his death. About the same time he published "Miscellanies in Prose and Verse," a collection of petty productions which had given him amusement, either in composing or hearing, during his earlier days. Perhaps without affectation, the gravity of the judge might have restrained the man from giving to the world a publication which could not have raised the better part of his reputation. Lord Gardenstone was either not a poet born, or his imagination had not stood the ordeal of a profession which deals in fact and reason. His serious verses have all the stiffness of the French school, without either the loftiness of Pope, or the fire of Dryden. The author had to be sure an ever teeming mind, which never emitted any thing common or contemptible, but it is to be feared, that the merits his verses possess, are those of rhetoric rather than of poetry; for, though constructed in the same workshop which formed words and ideas that thrilled through the minds of a subdued audience, they are certainly very flat and inelegant as poetical productions. The satirical pieces have a singular pungence and acuteness, and are fine specimens of the early natural powers of the author; but they are rather destitute of the tact acquired by professed satirists. A biographer, who seems to have been intimate with his lordship, [Life introductory to vol. 3d of Traveling Memorandums, the only life of Gardenstone hitherto published – at lest the one which, mutates mutandis, has been attached to his name in biographical dictionaries.] describes him as having expressed great contempt for the affectation of those who expressed disgust at the indelicacies of Horace or Swift, and it must certainly be allowed, that, in his humourous fragments, he has not departed from the spirit of his precepts, or shown any respect for the feelings of these weaker brethren. Lord Gardenstone spent the latter days of his life, as he had done the earlier, in an unrestricted benevolence, and a social intercourse with the world, indulging in the same principles, which years had softened in their activity, but had not diminished. He was still an ornament and a useful assistant to the circle of great men which raised the respectability of his country. He continued to use his then ample fortune, and his practised acuteness, in giving encouragement to letters, and in useful public projects, the last of which appears to have been the erection of a building over the mineral spring of St Bernard’s, in the romantic vale of the water of Leith, a convenience which seems to have been much more highly appreciated formerly than now, and is always mentioned as one of the chief incidents of the judge’s life. He died at Morningside, near Edinburgh, on the 22nd of July, 1793. The village which had afforded him so much benevolent pleasure exhibited, for a considerable period after his death, the outward signs of grief, and, what seldom happens in the fluctuations of the world, the philanthropist was mourned by those who had experienced his public munificence, as a private friend.

In person, lord Gardenstone is described as having been a commanding man, with a high forehead, features intellectually marked, and a serious penetrating eye: He was generally a successful speaker, and differed from many orators in being always pleasing. The effect appears to have been produced more by a deep-toned melodious voice, a majestic ease, and carelessness of manner, which made him appear unburdened with difficulties, and a flow of language which, whether treating of familiar or of serious, subjects, was always copious—than by the studied art of forensic oratory. His political principles were always on the side of the people, and so far as may be gathered from his remarks, he would have practically wished that every man should enjoy every freedom and privilege which it might be consonant with the order of society to allow, or which might with any safety be conceded to those who had been long accustomed to the restraints and opinions of an unequal government. From all that can be gathered from his life and character, it is to be regretted that lord Gardenstone, like many other eminent persons of his profession in Scotland, should have left behind him no permanent work to save his memory from oblivion. His "Travelling Memorandums" display the powers of a strongly thinking mind, carelessly strewed about on unworthy objects; the ideas and information are given with taste and true feeling; but they are so destitute of organization or settled purpose, that they can give little pleasure to a thinking mind, searching for digested and useful information, and are only fit for those desultory readers, who cannot, or, like the author himself, will not devote their minds to any particular end. The author’s criticisms, scattered here and there through his memorandums, his letters to his friends in the Edinburgh Magazine, and numberless pencil marks on the margins of his books, are always just and searching, and strikingly untrammelled by the prejudices of the day, a quality well exhibited in his praises of Shakspeare, then by no means fashionable, and of the satellites of the great bard, Shirley, Marlow, Massinger, and Beaumont and Fletcher, who were almost forgotten.


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