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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Twenty-Eight


I GRIEVE to say that the Faculty of Advocates has always been a body showing little business-like regard for its own interests. Given a strong lead by one or two powerful members of the profession, and there has often been seen the blind rush of the young flock to follow the leading rams, without care or consideration. The young advocate is too ready in Faculty business to accept the judgment of pleaders w ho stand high n legal advising and in debate, not realising that a man may be the best that can be found to act for a litigant, but may be the worst to advise about practical affairs of business. To vote away parts of the Faculty's property at inadequate prices merely because money was wanted for some scheme that was supposed to be desirable, has long been a feature of Faculty transactions. Let any member of the profession inspect the splendid room and the staircase and vestibule of the Library of the Society of Writers to the Signet—the great upper room being the very finest library hall n Edinburgh—and then let him ask himself whether it was "good business ' that the Faculty should sell this exceptionally fine building for 12,000—not equal to twice the price that has been given for one of the houses in Moray Place—and it is not difficult to guess what his answer would be. And what would he say further if he were told that, n addition to parting with the property ,his predecessors, In accepting the price, bound themselves never to raise the height of the Advocates' Library condor above its present stunted elevation. Yet all this was done before my time, and often has my W.S. father chaffed me about it. All the concession we have under the agreement is that we may pass across the Signet Library entrance by the door at the end of the Parliament Hall!

When the site for the Sheriff Court Houses was offered for by the county authorities, the same happy-go-lucky procedure took place. I remember several advocates of standing vehemently protesting against our neglecting business-like methods, as we would not do in the management of our own affairs. The sheep followed the leader through the voting room. I was one of those young sheep, and I have been ashamed of <t ever since.

The climax was reached when, after money had been poured out like water to pay for a printed catalogue of the library-—an expenditure which many of us deprecated—it was reported to the Faculty that it would require a large sum to complete the printing, f completing it could be called, seeing that the work having been carried on slowly and laboriously for a quarter of a century or more, there were many thousands of books which had been added year by year, and whose titles fell within the earlier letters of the alphabet, and therefore were excluded from their proper place in the catalogue. We had at that time a bibliophile Dean, Mr. Horn, who was indefatigable in canvassing the young advocates to induce them to promote this printing I remember seeing one youth pinned down in the dark corner at the bottom of the Parliament House. He was an objector. Mr. Horn was a patient user of many words, and kept him there for a long time, and when at last they separated, the unfortunate junior came across the House to me, with his hands up, saying something like this: "I have deserted to the enemy. I can't help it, I felt I would never get away if did not yield; it was like the torture of water dropping. I had to give in and flee, or go mad.'

Now it so happened that the Faculty had received, many years before, a legacy of a valuable collection of coins in an ornate cabinet, and on this the Dean, Mr. Horn, and his able biblophile coadjutor, Mr. Patrick Fraser, who succeeded him as Dean, fastened as a means of raising money. When the matter was brought forward, against every remonstrance and strong protest, it was put to the vote, and once again the members flocked after Horn and Fraser, and we, a miserable seven, were received with sarcastic cheers as we filed in from our lobby. The legatees in trust resolved to turn their legacy into money, and our fiasco of an opposition led to many a gibing remark. We, the Seven, had our revenge. With characteristic lack of regard for prudence in business, those who acted without taking the slightest trouble to obtain an impartial appraisement of what they were selling, handed over the whole collection and the cabinet containing it to the Royal Scottish Antiquarian Museum for 800.... The authority of the Museum, whenever they got possession, set about dealing with their prize as business men.' They sorted out all the duplicate coins in the collection, and sold these for the price they had given for the whole, thus getting a complete collection for nothing. This gave us, the despised Seven, the laugh against the meek, inisled flock and their blind leaders of the blind —a laugh more sardonic than merry. And had this been all, it would have been enough. But it was not all. There was a deeper hole yet for them to roll into the ditch. The cabinet stood for some time in the Museum, when on a certain day a man who was walking through the building suddenly stopped transfixed, like a setter at a partridge, and then gathering himself up he asked for the Secretary. On the Secretary joining him, he announced that he would give 2500 for that cabinet. The Secretary, of course, was diplomatic, and made the man understand that he did not know it was for sale. Negotiations followed, and ultimately the cabinet was sold for 3500! Thus the Faculty, regardless of their trust position, presented the Museum with coins and cabinet for nothing, and practically lost '4300 and obtained in hand a paltry 800, which it is quite certain that the printed catalogue could not he completed, The fact was that this cabinet formed part of a suite of furniture made for one of the kings of France, a Louis, whether Quatorze, Qumze, or Seize, I know not. It was most beautifully made, and into the unique ormolu fittings great golden Spanish Dubloons were nested. A rich collector was endeavouring to obtain the complete set, and this cabinet, and a clock, which I have seen in Muckross Abbey near Killarney, and for which 1000 was offered in vain—were the two last pieces he was striving to obtain. Had anything like reasonable care been taken, a valuable article such as this would not have been thrown away as it was. The incident is of unsavoury remembrance, but it must find a place in any canaid historical notice of the Faculty. It constitutes a dearly purchased warning, and should not be forgotten.

After being for two years Sheriff of Ross, Cromarty, and Sutherland, I was, in 1876, nominated by my kind friend Watson, who was then Lord-Advocate, to the office of Solicitor-General, which office I held until the defeat of Mr. Disrael's Government in 1880, when I became Sheriff of Perthshire.

During my period in the office of Solicitor-General I was doubly associated with a cause celebre when the City of Glasgow Bank failed, being myself a sufferer in a very serious degree, and having to do duty as Soliciitor-General in the consequent prosecution of the directors at their trial in Edinburgh. When it is remembered that every holder of 100 in shares, who was not reduced to bankruptcy, paid in calls 2750 sterling for that 100, an idea may be formed of the crushing character of the blow to all on whom it fell. It's not a subject on which it is pleasurable to enlarge, and I shall confine myself to relating two contrasted cases connected with it. Two old ladies who had confided 1500 to their agent to invest in City of Glasgow Bank stock were stunned at the knowledge of their loss, and sat in deep depression awaiting the liquidators notice of their being put on the list of contributorrs, thinking of the consequent "calls" with horror. No notice came to them, and on inquiry it turned out that they had no shares. Their agent had never made the investment, and kept them from discovering his rascality by paying regularly what he made them understand were the bank dividends. What a relief.! Their 1500 was gone, but the rest of their fortune was safe. Contrasting this the case of an unfortunate man who was involved in the catastrophe, and who went to an aged aunt to inform her of his ruin, the old lady bade him not repine, saying, "You will come and live with me, and all I have goes to you at my death.' Neither of them realised what would happen if she did not tie up her estate in some way to protect it against his creditors. She died shortly after, leaving the nephew the fee of all her estate, with the result that the liquidators of the bank carried off the whole of it as against the calls made!

It was an awful time. It will give an idea of the sweeping character of the calamity to mention that after the last call, out of all the many shareholders of the luckless bank, there were only sixteen people or sets of people left standing, and able to pay morei f called on. And even these would have been brought to penury had it not been that a number of public-spirited and generous citizens took the risk of purchasing from the liquidators the assets of the unfortunate bank, which were not immediately realisable at their true value, and so enabled them to bring the liquidation to an end.

There was nothing of value in the office of Solicitor-General, except the honour of the position, the emoluments not reaching to a thousand a year. In my case the possession of the post involved on more than one occasion a loss greater than the official salary. When the trial of the City of Glasgow Bank Directors took place, private practice fell off to nothing, as it was known that close attendance would have to be given to a long trial, and of course as practice was stopped, it took a considerable time before new work came in. The same thing happened, though in somewhat smaller degree, when Chantrelle, the French teacher, was brought to trial for murder. And later my fiend Asher, when Solicitor-General, must have suffered great loss when he had to conduct the prosecution of Alfred John Monson in a trial which lasted nine days. It is satisfactory to know that the emoluments of the office are now on a more reasonable scale, although even to-day they may not do more than compensate—or possibly may not compensate—for the loss caused by the Solicitor- General being expected to go to the expense of contesting a seat for Parliament, and if successful to give up much practice in obedience to the crack of the Party Whip.

As has been already mentioned, Lord Young, when Lord-Advocate, had the intention of obtaining an Act to reduce the number of judges in Scotland, and consequently kept a vacancy open for a long time, which he ultimately filled himself, when he made up his mind to retire from active practice. A few years after this a similar proposal was made, and I was one of a deputation which went with the Dean of Faculty Kinnear to represent against the cutting down of the Bench. It always seemed to me to be an audatious proposal on the part of the Treasury, while there was no movement to reduce the Judical staff in Ireland, which with less business than in Scotland had some twenty-three or twenty-four judges to Scotland's thirteen, and with higher salares than those obtaining in Scotland. Since the early Eighties there has been no further move in this direction, and it s hardly likely that there will be any such again. Having now been on the Bench for a quarter of a century, I can testify to the occurrence of many occasions, on which if the staff had been smaller than if is now, business in some of the Courts must have come to a standstill. The establishment of extra Circuits, taking place during the ordinary sitting of the Court, takes away two judges three times a year, and sometimes for a considerable number of days, if there are any long trials. Judges are also required during session for Valuation Appeal Courts, Registration Appeal Courts, and a judge is required for sittings of the Railway Commission. The Workmen's Compensation Act has added very substantially to the calls upon the Court. Again, the summary jurisdiction legislation of recent years has added greatly to the numbers of sittings necessary for the hearing of Criminal Appeals. There are occasionally illnesses, which seriously hamper the heads of the Court in obtaining the quorum necessary for a sitting. On one occasion my whole Division was broken up, I alone being available for duty. And this difficulty occurred when one judge from my Division and one from the other Division should have proceeded to Glasgow to hold a Circuit Court, but the other Division had only a quorum for its own sittings. This occurred at the time of the great .influenza epidemic. The result was that, as I was compelled to close my Division altogether, I went to Glasgow and took the whole business of the two judges appointed, which occupied some days. Had I been ill myself there would have been a deadlock, or such a dislocation of business as would have caused great inconvenience and expense to hagants. It must also be realised that if the Bench were cut down from its present number, it would be impossible to arrange for a temporary sitting of three judges as a Third Division, which is sometimes necessary, owing to pressure of business.

As I have referred to the influenza epidemic, I will ask leave to mention what happened in my own home, as an illustration of its severity. Of the eleven souls in my house, only two were left standing, the cook and myself, and I had the unique experience of having at times, when nurses were resting, to carry meals up four pairs of stairs for my little grandchildren.

In 1882, on the promotion of Dean of Faculty Kinnear to the Bench, my brethren of the Bar did me the honour to elect me to the vacant dean-ship, a position of inestimable value, which earns gratitude as no other appointment can from the fortunate advocate on whom it is bestowed.

During my period of office I had the satisfaction of seeing two changes effected, one purely aesthetic, and the other of great advantage to the Faculty. I had long lamented the position of Chantrey's charming statue of Dundas of Arrisiton in the old Parliament House, which was crowded into a dark niche with its back to the light, the crown of the arch being so low that the sill of the window over it was only a few inches above the head, on which not infrequently a dirty drip from a leaking window soiled the marble. There was, as I thought, an excellent place at the end of the House, from which the seated figure would look out freely to the hall. I found that a support for it would have to be built from twenty-eight feet below—a costly work. But, nothing daunted, I used any persuasiveness I possessed, and with the aid of the members of the Bench, and many brethren at the Bar, I succeeded in getting the work accomplished, to my own great satisfaction, and I hope and believe to the satisfaction of others.

The other work was an extension of the Library premises, in doing which a very much needed reading-room of commodious size was provided for the Faculty. The young advocate of to-day little knows how comfortably he is accommodated, when he desires to read 'n the Library, as compared with his predecessors.

On the day on which this room was opened by me—the brass plate over the chimney-piece being unveiled-—I had the honour, as the head of the Faculty, to receive, the delegates from all lands to the celebration of the Tercentenary of the University of Edinburgh, when a larger number of people were crowded into the Library premises than had ever been gathered there before.

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