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

Charles Hay, son of James Hay, Esq. of Cocklaw, Writer to the Signet, was born in 1747. He is said to have been descended from the Hays of Rannes, an ancient branch of the family of Hay. After the usual preparatory course of education, he passed advocate in 1768, having just attained the years of majority; but, unlike most young practitioners, Hay had so thoroughly studied the principles of the law, "that he has been frequently heard to declare he was as good a lawyer at that time as he ever was at any after period." He soon became distinguished by his strong natural abilities, as well as by his extensive knowledge of the profession, which embraced alike the minutest forms of the daily practice of the Court and the highest and most subtle points of jurisprudence. As a pleader he was very effective. His pleadings were never ornamental, but entirely free of "those little arts by which a speaker often tries to turn the attention of his auditors on himself;" at the same time they were acute, augmentative, and to the purpose. Mr Hay was, during the whole course of his life, a staunch Whig of the old school. In 1806, on the death of David Smythe, Lord Methven, he was promoted by the Fox administration to the bench, when he assumed the title of Lord Newton. This appointment was the only one which took place in the Court of Session during what was termed the reign of "the talents,"— a circumstance on which it is said he always professed to set a high value.

Whilst at the Bar, the opinions of his lordship were probably never surpassed for their acuteness, discrimination and solidity; and as a judge, he now showed that all this was the result of such a rapid and easy application of the principles of law, as appeared more like the effect of intuition than of study and laborious exertion.

Perhaps in none of his predecessors or contemporaries were so happily blended those masculine energies of mind, so requisite to constitute the profound lawyer, with that good nature and unpresuming simplicity so endearing in private life. "Those who saw him only on the bench were naturally led to think that his whole time and thoughts had for all his life been devoted to the laborious study of the law. Those, on the other hand, who knew him in the circle of his friends, when form and austerity were laid aside, could not easily conceive that he had not passed his life in the intercourse of society." He possessed an extraordinary fund of good-humour, amounting almost to playfulness, and entirely devoid of vanity or affectation. There was, perhaps, a strong dash of eccentricity in his character; but his peculiarities appeared in the company of so many estimable qualities, that they only tended to render him more interesting to his friends. His lordship was of a manly and firm mind, having almost no fear of personal danger. He possessed great bodily strength and activity till the latter years of his life, when he became excessively corpulent.

Lord Newton's extraordinary judicial talents and social eccentricities are the subjects of numerous anecdotes. On the bench he frequently indulged in a degree of lethargy not altogether in keeping with the dignity of the long-robe, and which, to individuals unacquainted with his habits, might well seem to interfere with the proper discharge of his duties. On one occasion, while a very zealous but inexperienced counsel was pleading before him, his lordship had been dozing, as usual, for some time—till at last the young man, supposing him asleep, and confident of a favourable judgment in his case, stopped short in his pleading, and addressing the other lords on the bench, said—"My lords, it is unnecessary that I should go on, as Lord Newton is fast asleep." "Ay, ay," cried Newton, whose faculties were not in the least affected by the leaden god, " you will have proof of that by and by," when, to the astonishment of the jroung advocate, after a most luminous review of the case, he gave a very decided and elaborate judgment against him.

Lord Newton participated deeply in the bacchanalian propensities so prevalent among lawyers of every degree, during the last and beginning of the present century. He has been described as one of the "profoundest drinkers" of his day. A friend informs us that, when dining alone, his lordship was very abstemious; but, when in the company of his friends, he has frequently been known to put three "lang-craigs" under his belt, with scarcely the appearance of being affected by it. On one of these occasions, he dictated to his clerk a law-paper of sixty pages, which has been considered one of the ablest his lordship had ever been known to produce. The manuscript was sent to press without being read, and the proof sheets were corrected at the bar of the Inner House in the morning.

It has been stated that Lord Newton often spent the night in all manner of convivial indulgences—drove home about seven o'clock in the morning—slept two hours, and mounting the bench at the usual time, showed himself perfectly well qualified to perform his duty. Simond, the French traveller, relates that " he was quite surprised, on stepping one morning into the Parliament House, to find in the dignified capacity, and exhibiting all the dignified bearing of a judge, the very gentleman with whom he had just spent a night of debauch, and parted only an hour before, when both were excessively intoxicated. His lordship was also exceedingly fond of card-playing; so much so, that it was humorously remarked, "Cards were his profession, and the law only his amusement."

During the sitting of the Session, Lord Newton, when an advocate, constantly attended a club once a week, called "The Grocliallan Fencibles," which met in Daniel Douglas's Tavern, Anchor Close, and consisted of a considerable number of literary men and wits of the very first water. The club assumed the name of Crochallan from the burthen of a Gaelic song, which the landlord xised sometimes to entertain the members with ; and they chose to name their association Fencibles, because several military volunteer corps in Edinburgh then bore that appellation. In this club all the members held some pretended military rank or title. On the introduction of new members, it was the custom to treat them at first with much apparent rudeness, as a species of initiation, or trial of their tempers and humours ; and when this was done with prudence, Lord Newton was much delighted with the joke, and he was frequently engaged in drilling the recruits in this way. His lordship held the appointments of Major and Muster-Master General to the corps. The late Mr Smellie introduced the poet Burns to this corps in January 1787, when Lord Newton and he were appointed to drill the bard, and they accordingly gave him a most severe castigation. Burns showed his good-huinonr by retaliating in an extemporaneous effusion, descriptive of Mr Smellie, who held at that time the honourable office of hangman to the corps.

The eccentricities of Lord Newton were frequently a source of merriment amongst his friends. He had an unconquerable antipathy to punning, and in order to excite the uneasiness he invariably exhibited at all attempts of that nature, they studiously practised this novel species of punishment in his company.

His lordship had two estates (Newton and Faichfield,) and was fond of agricultural improvements; although, like most other lawyers who cultivate their own lands, he did not know much about farming. One day, when shown a field of remarkably large turnips, he observed that, in comparison, those in his own grounds were only like "gouf ba's,"—an expression which his waggish friend frequently afterwards turned to his annoyance, by asking him how his "gouf ba's " were looking.

We have already mentioned that Lord Newton was an uncompromising Whig. From his independent avowal of principles, and occasional vehement declamation against measures which he conceived to be wrong, he was dubbed by his opponents the "Mighty Goth." This, however, was only in the way of good-natured banter; no man, perhaps, passed through life with fewer enemies, even among those who were his political opponents. All bore testimony to his upright conduct as a judge—to his talents as a lawyer—and to his honesty as a man.

Lord Newton died at Powrie, in Forfarshire, on the 19th of October 1811. His lordship, who is understood not to have relished female society, was never married ; and the large fortune which he left was inherited by his only sister, Mrs Hay Mudie, for whom he always entertained the greatest affection.

Lord Newton, when an advocate, continued to wear the gown of Lockhart, "Lord Covington," till it was in tatters, and at last had a new one made with a fragment of the neck of the original sewed into it, whereby he could still make it his boast that he wore "Covington's gown." Lord Covington died in 1782, in the eighty-second year of his age. He practised for upwards of half a century at the bar previous to his elevation to the bench in 1775. He and his friend, Ferguson of Pitfour, rendered themselves conspicuous by becoming voluntary counsel for the unfortunate prisoners tried at Carlisle in 1746, for their concern in the Bebellion, and especially by the ingenious means they devised to shake the wholesale accusations against them.

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