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The Scottish Nation

LAW, JOHN, of Lauriston, a famous financial projector, the son of a goldsmith, was born in Edinburgh in April 1671. At the end of this memoir will be found some particulars of his family. He was bred to no profession, but early displayed a singular capacity for calculation. On his father’s death he succeeded to the small estates of Lauriston and Randleston, but having acquired habits of gambling and extravagance, he soon became deeply involved, when his mother paid his debts, and obtained possession of the property, which she immediately entailed. Tall and handsome in person, and much addicted to gallantry, he was at this time familiarly known by the name of Beau Law. Having gone to London, he there had a quarrel with another young man, one Edward Wilson, whom he had the misfortune to kill in a duel, for which he was tried at the Old Bailley, and being found guilty of murder, was sentenced to death, April 20, 1694. Though pardoned by the Crown, he was detained in prison in consequence of an appeal being lodged against him by the brother of the deceased, but contrived to make his escape from the King’s Bench, and immediately proceeded to France, and afterwards to Holland. About 1700 he returned to Scotland, and, having directed his attention to the financial system of the French and Dutch bankers, particularly of the latter, in 1701 he published at Glasgow, ‘Proposals and Reasons for constituting a Council of Trade in Scotland.’ He also had the address to recommend himself to the king’s ministers, who employed him to arrange and prepare the Revenue Accounts, which were in great confusion at the time of settling the equivalent before the Union. With the view of remedying the deficiency of a circulating medium, for the want of which the industry of the country was in a languishing condition, he proposed to the Scottish legislature the establishment of a bank, with paper issues to the amount of the value of all the lands in the kingdom. The principles on which this scheme was founded are fully explained in his work, published at Edinburgh in 1705, entitled ‘Money and Trade Considered, with a Proposal for Supplying the nation with Money:’ but the project was rejected by parliament.

      Proceeding to France, Law had recourse to gaming for his subsistence, and won large sums of money at play. He obtained an introduction to the duke of Orleans, and offered his scheme to Chamillart, the minister of finance, who considered it a dangerous innovation, in consequence of which the projector unexpectedly received a police-order to quit Paris within twenty-four hours. He next visited Italy, and was banished in a similar manner from Venice and Genoa as a designing adventurer. His success at play, however, was so great, that, when he returned to Paris, after the succession of Orleans to the regency, he was in possession of no less a sum than £100,000. His scheme was at first rejected by Demarest, the new finance minister, but, having been fortunate enough to secure the patronage of the regent, Law received letters patent, dated March 2, 1716, by which his bank was at length established in Paris, with a capital of 1,200 shares, of 5,000 livres each, which soon bore a premium. This bank became the office for all public receipts, and, in 1717, there was annexed to it the famous Mississippi Scheme, or West India Company, which was invested with the full sovereignty of Louisiana, and was expected to realize immense sums, by planting colonies and extending commerce. In 1718 this bank was declared a Royal bank, and such was the confidence of the public in its operations, that the shares rose to twenty times their original value. In 1719 their valuation was more than eighty times the amount of all the current specie of the kingdom. In May of the same year the French East India Company was incorporated with the West India Company, when they received the united name of the Company of the Indies. In January 1720 Law was appointed comptroller-general of the finances, which in effect elevated him to the premiership of France; but the stupendous fabric of false credit which he had reared at length fell to the ground, the shares sank in value as rapidly as they had risen; and so great had been the rage for speculation, that, though immense fortunes were made by some parties on the occasion, many thousand families were ruined, and the government itself was reduced to the very verge of bankruptcy. The same desperate game of chance was the same year played in England by the directors of the South Sea Bubble, which reduced many hundred persons to disgrace and beggary.

      Law was obliged to resign his post, after he had held it only for five months, and to quit France. With no more than 800 louis d’ors, the wreck of his immense fortune, he travelled to Brussels and Venice, and through Germany to Copenhagen. Receiving an invitation from the British ministry to return to England, he was presented, on his arrival, to George I., by Admiral Sir John Norris, and, about the same time, attended by the duke of Argyle, the earl of Ilay, and other friends, he appeared at the bar of the court of King’s Bench, November 28, 1721, and pleaded his majesty’s pardon for the murder of Edward Wilson. In 1725 he left Britain, and finally settled at Venice, where he died, March 21, 1729, in a state of poverty, though occupied to the last in vast schemes of finance, and fully convinced of the solidity of his system, the signal failure of which he attributed to panic. The following epitaph was written soon after the death of this distinguished financier: –

                        Ci git cet Ecossois celebre,
                        Ce calculateur sans egale,
                        Que par les regles de l’Algebre
                        A mis France à l’hopital.

      Law’s great-great-grandfather, James Law, was archbishop of Glasgow in the beginning of the 17th century. The father of this prelate was portioner of Lathrisk, Fifeshire, and his mother, Agnes Strang, was of the house of Balcaskie. Admitted minister of Kirkliston, Linlithgowshire, in 1582, he became bishop of Orkney in 1606, and archbishop of Glasgow in 1615. He died in Nov. 1632. He first married a daughter of Dundas of Newliston, and 2dly, Marion, 2d daughter of John Boyle of Kelburn, ancestor of the earls of Glasgow, and widow of Matthew Ross of Haining. His widow erected a handsome monument to his memory over his grave in the upper end of the chancel of Glasgow cathedral. He purchased from the Wardlaws of Torry, the estate of Brunton, Fifeshire, now called Barnslee. His great-grandson, William Law, goldsmith in Edinburgh, the father of the financier, was the second son of James Law of Brunton. He purchased the two small estates of Lauriston and Randleston, about 180 acres, parish of Cramond, Mid Lothian, and married Jean Campbell, descended from a branch of the ducal house of Argyle.

      Law married Lady Catharine Knollys, daughter of the 3d earl of Banbury, issue a son, John Law, and a daughter. The latter married her cousin, Viscount Wallingford, afterwards created Lord Althorp. Lady Wallingford survived her husband more than half a century, and died in London, October 14, 1790, leaving no issue. The son, John Law of Lauriston, a cornet of the regiment of Nassau, Friesland, died at Maestricht in 1734.

      William Law, 3d son of Jean Campbell of Lauriston, succeeded to the entail on the extinction of the issue male of her eldest son. William’s eldest son, John, attained the rank of commandant-general and president of council of the French settlements in Endia, and died at Paris about 1796. On May 21, 1808, Francis John William Law, a merchant in London, was served nearest and legitimate heir of entail and provision of the reformed religion, of his father, John Law, and entered into possession of the estate of Lauriston, to the exclusion of his elder brothers, Roman Catholics, according to the then law. The estate subsequently became the property of Mr. Allan, banker, Edinburgh. Lauriston Castle was at one period the residence of Andrew Rutherfurd, Esq., M.P., afterwards a lord of session under the title of Lord Rutherfurd.

      Law’s brother’s family remained in France. His grand-nephew was James Bernard Law, a marshal of France, one of the most gallant and sagacious lieutenants of Napoleon I., the bearer of the treaty of Amiens to London in 1802; and the hero of the desperate battle of Goldberg. He was made a count by Napoleon, and created marquis of Lauriston by Louis XVIII. He died June 10, 1828. His elder son, General Augustus John Alexander Law, 2d marquis of Lauriston, died June 27, 1860, leaving 3 sons. The younger son of Marshal Law bore the title of Count Napoleon Law.

      John Law’s works are:

      Proposals and Reasons for constituting a Council of Trade in Scotland. Edin. 1701, 8vo. Glasg. 1751, 12mo.

      Money and Trade considered; with a proposal for Supplying the Nation with Money. Glasg. 1705, 4to. 1750, 8vo. 1760, 12mo.

      Oeuvres contenant les Principes sur le Numeraire, le Commerce, le Credit, et les Banques, avec des Notes. Paris. 1790, 8vo.

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