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Significant Scots
Hugh Campbell Hume


HUME, HUGH CAMPBELL, third and last earl of Marchmont, was born at Edinburgh on the 15th February, 1708, and soon became remarkable for the precocity of his intellect, and the versatility of his genius. His mind was equally directed to the acquisition of scholastic erudition and political knowledge, and on all subjects he was supposed to be excelled by few or none of his time. In 1734, when only twenty-six years of age, he was chosen member for the county of Berwick, and entered the House of Commons as lord Polwarth, at the same time that his younger and twin brother, Mr Hume Campbell, came forward as representative for the burghs of the district. The injustice and neglect which Sir Robert Walpole had shown to lord Marchmont, was speedily avenged by the trouble which these young men gave to his government. The former soon attained the first place in the opposition; and how keenly his attacks were felt by the ministry is shown in a remark made by the latter person, to the effect that "there were few things he more ardently desired than to see that young man at the head of his family," and thus deprived of a seat in the house. This wish was soon gratified, for his father dying in 1740, lord Polwarth succeeded as earl of Marchmont, nor did he again enter the walls of parliament until the year 1750, when a vacancy occurring in the representative of the Scottish peerage, he was almost unanimously elected. From his talents as a speaker, his extensive information, and active business habits, he acquired great influence in the upper house, and was constantly re-chosen at every general election, during the long period of 34 years. He was appointed first lord of police in 1747, and keeper of the great seal of Scotland, in January, 1764, the latter of which he held till his death. The estimation in which his lordship was held by his contemporaries may be judged of by the circumstance of his living on terms of the strictest intimacy with the celebrated lord Cobham, (who gave his bust a place in the Temple of Worthies at Stow,) Sir William Wyndham, lord Bolingbroke, the duchess of Marlborough, Mr Pope, and other eminent persons of that memorable era. The duchess appointed him one of her executors, and bequeathed him a legacy of 2,500 for his trouble, and as a proof of her esteem. Mr Pope likewise appointed him one of his executors, leaving him a large-paper edition of Thuanus, and a portrait of lord Bolingbroke, painted by Richardson. The poet likewise immortalized him, by introducing his name into the well-known inscription in the Twickenham grotto:— "Then the bright flame was shot through Marchmont’s soul!"

His lordship’s library contained one of the most curious and valuable collections of books and manuscripts in Great Britain; all of which he bequeathed at his death to his sole executor, the right honourable George Rose.

His lordship was twice married; first, in 1731, to Miss Western of London, by whom he had four children, a son (who died young), and three daughters; the youngest of whom was afterwards married to Walter Scott, Esq. of Harden. Upon the death of his wife, in 1747, he next year married a Miss Elizabeth Crompton, whose father was a linen draper in Cheapside, by whom he had oneson, Alexander, lord Polwarth, who died without issue, in the 31st year of his age. The circumstances attending this second marriage were very peculiar, and his lordship’s conduct on the occasion, seems altogether so much at variance with his general character, as well as with one in his rank and circumstances in life that we reckon them worthy of being recorded here;_and in doing so, we think we cannot do better than adopt the account of them given by the celebrated David Hume, in a familiar epistle to the late Mr Oswald of Dunnikier, and published in the latter gentleman’s correspondence. The letter is dated, London January 29th, 1748:—"Lord Marchmont has had the most extraordinary adventure in the world. About three weeks ago, he was at the play, when he espied in one of the boxes a fair virgin, whose looks, airs, and manners, had such a powerful and wonderful effect upon him, as was visible by every by-stander His raptures were so undisguised, his looks so expressive of passion, his inquiries so earnest, that every person took notice of it. He soon was told that her name was Crompton, a linen draper’s daughter, that had been bankrupt last year, and had not been able to pay above five shillings in the pound. The fair nymph herself was about sixteen or seventeen, and being supported by some relations: appeared in every public place, and had fatigued every eye but that of his lord ship, which, being entirely employed in the severer studies, had never till that fatal moment opened upon her charms. Such and so powerful was their effect as to be able to justify all the Pharamonds and Cyrusses in their utmost extravagancies. He wrote next morning to her father, desiring to visit his daughter on honourable terms: and in a few days she will be the countess of Marchmont. All this is certainly true. They say many small fevers prevent a great one. Heaven be praised that I have always liked the persons and company of the fair sex! for by that means I hope to escape such ridiculous passions. But could you ever suspect the ambitious, the severe, the bustling, the impetuous, the violent Marchmont, of becoming so tender and gentle a swain—an Artamenes—an Oroondates!"

His lordship died at his seat, at Hemel Hempstead, in Hertfordshire, on the 10th of January, 1794, and leaving no heirs male, all the titles of the family became extinct; but his estate descended to his three daughters. According to Sir George H. Rose, who, from his family connexion with the earl of Marchmont, had the best means of knowing, this nobleman "was an accomplished and scientific horseman, and a theoretical and practical husbandman and gardener. He pursued his rides and visits to his farm and garden as long as his strength would suffice for the exertion; and some hours of the forenoon, and frequently of the evening, were dedicated to his books. His most favourite studies appear to have been in the civil law, and in the laws of England and Scotland, in the records and history of the European nations, and in ancient history; and the traces of them are very unequivocal. The fruits of his labours in extracts, observations, comparisons, and researches, all made in his own hand-writing, are not more to be admired than wondered at, as the result of the industry of one who was stimulated neither by poverty nor by eagerness for literary celebrity. His Dutch education had given him method, which was the best possible auxiliary to an ardent and powerful mind, such as his was."

In the publication which we have entitled the Marchmont Papers, are many of earl Hugh, of which the most important feature is a diary, which he kept during three different periods of peculiar interest in the reign of George the Second. The first extends from the latter end of July, 1744, to the end of that year, and embraces the events which led to the formation of what was called the Broad Bottom Administration, when lord Carteret, who just then became earl of Granville, was compelled to retire by the Pelhams, the king consenting thereto very reluctantly, and when the dukes of Devonshire, Bedford, and Dorset, and the earls of Harrington and Chesterfield, came into office. The second period begins in September, 1745, when news had just been received in London that the Pretender was near Edinburgh, and that it would probably be soon in his occupation. It closes in the February following, with the extraordinary events of that month, the resignation of the Pelham ministry, and its re-establishment after the earl of Bath’s and the earl of Granville’s interregnum of three days. The third period commences in July, 1747, and terminates in March, 1748, soon after the earl of Chesterfield’s resignation, and the duke of Bedford’s appointment to succeed him as secretary of state.


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