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The Scottish Nation

HORNER, FRANCIS, an able parliamentary speaker and political economist, and one of the early writers in the Edinburgh Review, was the eldest son of a respectable linen merchant in Edinburgh, who was himself a native of England, and was born in that city August 12, 1778. At the High School of his native place, he showed great application and proficiency, and attained the distinction of being dux of the rector’s class. His first Latin master was the eccentric William Nicoll, the convivial friend of Burns, but the rector was the learned Dr. Adam. At the university of his native city, under the auspices of the celebrated Dugald Stewart, he made great progress in his studies. Robertson the historian was then the principal, and the respective chairs were filled by Professors Dugald Stewart, Playfair, Joseph Black, John Robison, Blair, Dalziel, Monro, and Gregory. After leaving the university, he spent some time with a private tutor in England, the Rev. John Hewlett of Shacklewell, for the purpose chiefly of acquiring a purely English accent. After his return to Edinburgh he studied law, physical science, political philosophy and English composition. To improve himself in the latter, he systematically read the purest English classics, and exercised himself in translating from good French authors. He seems to have acquired considerable knowledge of Italian and Spanish without the assistance of masters. The historians, philosophers, and economists stood higher in his favour than the poets and imaginative writers. He became a member of the Literary, Speculative, and other societies, being admitted a member of the Speculative at the same time with Henry afterwards Lord Brougham, and both took an active part in the proceedings of that Society. Among his associates at this time were Lord Henry Petty, afterwards marquis of Lansdowne, Francis, afterwards Lord Jeffrey, Brougham, John Archibald Murray, afterwards a lord of session, his schoolfellow, fellow-student, and friend and correspondent through life, Lord Webb Seymour, a younger brother of the duke of Somerset, and the Rev. Sydney Smith. For one of his subjects in the Speculative Society he chose “the circulation of money;” and in conjunction with Dr. Thomas Brown and some others he engaged, while still a law student, in translating the political and philosophical works of Turgot, which were afterwards published.

      In the summer of 1800 he passed advocate, but he very soon acquired a rooted dislike of the practice and usages of the court of session, and after having walked for above a year the boards of the parliament house, his daily attendance in which gave him a constant headach, he resolved to quit practice there and qualify for the English bar. He accordingly entered at Lincoln’s Inn. Having joined the whig party in 1806, when Lord Henry Petty was appointed chancellor of the exchequer, he and the earl of Lauderdale exerted their influence on behalf of Mr. Horner, who, through Lord Kinniard, was returned member of parliament for St. Ives. At the following election, however, he lost his seat, but was returned for St. Mawes, through the Grenville interest. Before this time he had appeared as counsel at the bar of the house of peers in Scotch appeal cases, and he seems to have soon obtained in this department a large share of professional employment. From his first appearance as a member of the house of commons, he was recognised as a man of ability and information, and as one likely to rise. Through the patronage of Lord Minto he obtained the place of one of the commissioners for investigating the claims upon the nabob of Arcot, though without salary.

      Having been called to the English bar, he chose the western circuit, and was, though slowly, in the way of obtaining a fair share of business. But his reputation as a member of parliament advanced far more rapidly than his character as a lawyer; and this squared with his inclinations and ambition, which had ever strongly prompted him to figure in public life, whatever became of his pecuniary interests. In the session of 1810 he distinguished himself by his speeches on the state of the circulating medium. He was afterwards placed at the head of the Bullion committee, and made a most elaborate, though unsuccessful, effort for the return of cash payments. In May of the same year, he supported Alderman Combe’s motion for a vote of censure on ministers, for having obstructed an address to his majesty from the Livery of London.

He continued to take a prominent part on the opposition side of the house in all the important discussions of the day, particularly in those of the regency question; but by constant application to business, his constitution, never very strong, at last gave way. For several years before his illness assumed the decided character of pulmonary disease, he had occasionally suffered from a complaint which perplexed the physicians whom he consulted, both in London and Edinburgh. An uneasiness amounting to difficulty of breathing was one painful symptom, yet the disease was declared to be neither water on the chest, nor tubercular consumption. Dr. Baillie alone rightly conjectured the real nature of the unwonted complaint to which Mr. Horner, without any apprehension of his end being so near, fell a victim. It was an enlargement of the air-cells of the lungs, and a consequent condensation of their substance, a form of disease so unusual that Dr. Baillie had known only of three cases of so rare a disorder, and these not in his own practice, but from examining anatomical collections. In company with his brother, Leonard, secretary to the Geological Society, for the recovery of his health Mr. Horner went to France, and afterwards proceeded to Italy, without deriving any benefit from the change. He died at Pisa, February 8, 1817, in the 38th year of his age. A monument was erected to his memory by his friends in Westminster Abbey, and his Memoirs and Correspondence in 2 vols, 8vo, edited by his brother, Mr. Leonard Horner, was published at London in 1843. Subjoined is his portrait from a painting by Sir Henry Raeburn.

[portrait of Francis Horner]

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