Fearne, Charles

, a barrister and law writer, was

the eldest son of Fearne, esq. judge advocate of the admiralty in the latter end of the late king’s reign. He presided at the trial of admiral Byng; and on that trial, and in the general course of his profession, was distinguished as a very able and learned man. He gave his son Charles the first rudiments of education himself, and at a proper age sent him to Westminster school, where he soon began to distinguish himself in classical and mathematical learning. Being designed for the law, as soon as he had finished his education at this seminary, he was entered of the Inner Temple; but at that time with no fixed resolution to become a barrister. His life had hitherto passed in making excursions from one branch of learning to another, in each of which he made very considerable advances, and might perhaps have succeeded in any. During this state of irresolution, his father died; and his fortune, which (from his habits of living) was very inconsiderable, was equally partitioned between our author, and a brother and sister. Here it was that young Fearne exhibited that generosity and independence that distinguished him through the greater part of his life. His father had given him, on his entrance into the Inner Temple, a few huudred pounds, to purchase chambers and books; and, as he had likewise given him a superior education to his younger brother, be nobly resolved on accepting this as a full equivalent for his share in the remainder of his father’s fortune. His brother and sister had affection and delicacy enough to resist this conduct for a while; but Fearne was immoveable. “My father,” said he, “by taking such uncommon pains | with my education, no doubt meant it should be my whole dependence; and if that won’t bring me through, a fevV hundred pounds will be a matter of no consequence.” His brother and sister therefore shared the father’s fortune between them: the former settled in the Admiralty-office, and the latter afterwards married a gentleman of equal rank and condition with herself.

Amidst Mr. Fearne’s various pursuits of knowledge, he had always a particular attachment to experimental philosophy, which, both at school and at the Temple, he practised occasionally. In this employment, he fancied that he had discdvered the art of dying Morocco leather of particular colours, and after a new process. It appears that the Maroquoniers in the Levant (who are called so from dressing the skin of this goat, named the Maroquiu) keep secret the ingredients which they put into the liquor, which gives it that fine red colour. This secret, or what would answer equally as well, Fearne thought he had discovered, and, like most projectors, saw great profits arising from the discovery. It was his misfortune, however, to form a connection in this scheme, with a needy and expensive partner, which opened his eyes to the fallacy of his hopes; and at the suggestion of his friends, he reverted to his original profession, or what his father intended for such, and sat down to the study of the law with unremitting diligence. He had not been long in chambers, when his habits of study, diligence, and sobriety, were observed by an eminent attorney in the Temple, who wanted an abstract to be made of a voluminous body of papers, so as to bring the matter clearly before counsel. The papers were so intricate, and of such various references, that they required a very clear head, and a man not much taken up with other business, to arrange them. He saw Fearne answered this last description very well; and told him, “That having a great body of papers to arrange, he should be glad to employ him.” Fearne accepted the offer, and performed his task so ably, that his employer not only rewarded him handsomely for his trouble, but from that time gave him a considerable part of his business.

He now began to be known as a young man of very considerable legal erudition, and a promising increase in business encouraged him to relinquish his chambers, and take a house in Breams-buildings, Chancery-lane, where he became very successful as, what is called, a chamber | counsel. Before he left the Temple, he had published his very useful “Legigraphical Chart of Landed Property,” and he now derived additional reputation from his more important treatise, entitled “An Essay on the Learning of Contingent Remainders and Executory Devises,” which, although published without his name, was soon traced to its author. Fortune, as it is usually termed, was now before him, but he had no extraordinary ambition for her favours, and, very oddly, contracted his business within a 1 certain compass, by which it might yield him an annual sum which he thought sufficient for his wants. This, estimated by his biographer at 1500l. a year, when he could with ease have acquired 3000l. he spent on a town and country-house, a carriage, &c. with an establishment on a genteel but moderate scale; and the time he denied to increase of business, he employed in his house at Hampstead on mechanical and philosophical experiments. At this retreat he was wrapt up either in some philosophical experiment, or some mechanical invention the first of which he freely communicated to men of similar pursuits and the latter, when, completed, he as liberally gave away to poor artists, or dealers in these articles; and here also he made some op? tical glasses upon a new construction, which have been reckoned improvements he likewise constructed a machine for transposing the keys in music gave many useful hints in the dyeing of cottons, and in a variety of other articles, which equally shewed the enlarged state of his mind, and the liberality of his heart. These he called his dissipations, and with some degree of truth, as they often broke jn upon his profession, and induced him to give up more hours (to bring up for lost time) than was consistent with more beneficial pursuits, or the natural strength of his constitution.

While thus employed, an occasion presented itself, which called forth his talents in a new way. Lord Mansfield, when solicitor-general in 1747, having given an opinion in. the state of a case on the will of William Williams (afterwards the subject of the celebrated case of Perrin v. Blake), which Mr. Fearne, on the authority of his friend the late James Booth, esq. of Lincoln’s-inn, quoted in the first edition of his “Essay on the Learning of Contingent Remainders, &c.” his lordship afterwards disavowed that opinion on the bench, insinuating at the same time that Mr, Fearne was under some mistake in reporting it. Fearne, | all alive to the delicacy of his character, and knowing the strong ground he proceeded upon (which was a copy of that opinion given him by Mr. Booth, from a manuscript collection of cases, taken from the originals), took this opportunity to publish a letter, entitled “Copies of Opinions ascribed to eminent counsel on the will which was the subject of the case of Perrin v. Blake, before the court of king’s bench, 1769, addressed to the right hon. William earl of Mansfield.” This appeared about 1780, and is said to have afforded lord Mansfield some uneasiness, who, however, took no notice of it.

The remainder of Mr. Fearne’s life appears to have passed in a relaxation from professional cares, and to have been embittered by the difficulties by which such imprudence is generally followed. It would be painful to enter into a, detail of this course, which terminated by his death, Jan. 21, 1794, when he had reached only his forty -fifth year, and was worn out both in mind and body. In order to contribute to the provision of his family, his friends collected his posthumous works, which were published in 1797, consisting of “Observations on the Statute of Inrollments of Bargains and Sales, 27 Hen. VIII. delivered by the author in a reading at Lyon’s-inn in 1778 Arguments in the singular case of general Stanwix and a collection of Cases and Opinions.1


European Mag. for August, September, and October, 1799.