Dundas, Robert

, of Arniston, son of the preceding, was born July 18, 1713. He received the earlier parts of his education under a domestic tutor, and afterwards pursued the usual course of academical studies in the university of Edinburgh. In the end of the year 1733, he went to Utrecht, where the lectures on the Roman law were at that time in considerable reputation. He remained abroad for four years; and during the recess of study at the university, he spent a considerable time at Paris, and in visiting several of the principal towns of France and the Low | Countries. Returning to Scotland in 1737, he was called to the bar in the beginning of the following year and, in his earliest public appearances, gave ample proof of his inheriting, in their utmost extent, the abilities and genius of his family. His eloquence was copious and animated; in argument he displayed a wonderful fertility of invention, tempered by a discriminating judgment, which gave, even to his unpremeditated harangues, a methodical arrangement; in consultation, he possessed a quickness of apprehension beyond all example; and his memory, which was most singularly tenacious, enabled him to treasure up, and to produce instantaneously, every case or precedent which was applicable to the matter before him.

Thus liberally endowed by nature with every requisite to eminence in his profession, he had the honour of being appointed solicitor-general for Scotland in September 1742, at the early age of twenty-nine. This important office he held only for four years. He had obtained it through the favour of the Carteret administration, which was then in power; but, on the change of ministry, which took place in 1746, when the Pelham party regained its influence in the cabinet, he, together with the other friends of the former ministry, resigned their offices. But the high consideration in which he then stood with his brethren at the bar, was not diminished by the loss of an office dependent on ministerial favour. In the same year, 1746, he was elected dean of the faculty of advocates, and continued to preside over that respectable body till his elevation to the bench in 1760.

In the beginning of 1754, Mr. Dundas was elected member of parliament for the county of Edinburgh; and in the following snmmer he was appointed his majesty’s advocate for Scotland. In parliament, the share which Mr. Dundas took in public business, and his appearances on many interesting subjects of discussion, which occurred in that important period during which he sat in the house of commons, were such as fully to justify the character he had already attained for talents and ability. Such was the complexion of the times, and so high the tide of party, that it was perhaps impossible for human wisdom to have pointed out a line of political conduct which could entirely exempt from censure. The lord advocate shared with the rest of his party in the censure of those who followed an pposite plan of politics but of him it may certainly with | truth be affirmed, that in no instance was he ever known to swerve from his principles, or to act a part in which he had not the countenance of many of the firmest friends to the interest of their country. He was chiefly censured for the opposition which he gave to the establishment of a militia in Scotland, by a great party in that country, who warmly supported that measure. But when the question is dispassionately viewed, it will appear to be one of those doubtful points, on which the wisest men and the best patriots may entertain opposite opinions.

On June 14, 1760, Mr. Dundas was appointed president of the court of session. This was the aera of the splendour of his public character. Invested with one of the most important trusts that can be committed to a subject, he acquitted himself of that trust, during the twentyseven years in which he held it, with such consummate ability, wisdom, and rectitude, as must found a reputation durable as the national annals, and transmit his memory with honour to all future times. At his first entry upon office, the public, though well assured of his abilities, was doubtful whether he possessed that power of application and measure of assiduity, which is the first duty of the station that he now filled. Fond of social intercourse, and of late engaged in a sphere of life where natural talents are the chief requisite to eminence, he had hitherto submitted but reluctantly to the habits of professional industry. But it was soon seen, that accidental circumstances alone had prevented the developement of one great feature of his character, a capacity of profound application to business. He had no sooner taken his seat as president of the session, than he devoted himself to the duties of his office with an ardour of which that court, even under the ablest of his predecessors, had seen no example, and a perseverance of attention which suffered no remission to the latest hour of his life. He maintained, with great strictness, all the forms of the court in the conduct of business. These he wisely considered as essential, both to the equal administration of justice, and as the outworks which guard the law against those too common, but most unworthy artifices which are employed to prostitute and abuse it. To the bar he conducted himself with uniform attention and rQspect. He listened with patience to the reasonings of the counsel. He never anticipated the arguments of the pleader, nor interrupted him with questions to shew his | own acuteness; but left every man to state his cause his own way: nor did he ever interfere, unless to restrain what was either manifestly foreign to the subject, or what wounded, in his apprehension, the dignity of the court. In this last respect he was most laudably punctilious. He never suffered an improper word to escape, either fromthe tongue or pen of a counsel, without the severest animadversion; and so acute was that feeling which he was know n to possess, of the respect that was due to the bench, that there were but few occasions when it became necessary for him to express it.

There were indeed other occasions, on which his feelings were most keenly awakened, and on which he gave vent to a becoming spirit of indignation. He treated with the greatest severity every instance, either of malversation in the officers of the law, or of chicanery in the inferior practitioners of the court. No calumnious or iniquitous prosecution, no attempt to pervert the forms of law to the purposes of oppression, ever eluded his penetration, or escaped his just resentment. Thus, perpetually watchful, and earnestly solicitous to maintain both the dignity and the rectitude of that sup’reme tribunal over which he presided, the influence of these endeavours extended itself to every inferior court of judicature as the motion of the heart is felt in the remotest artery. In reviewing the sentences ui inferior judges, he constantly expressed his desire of supporting the just authority of every rank and order of magistrates; but these were taught at the same time to walk with circumspection, to guard their conduct with the most scrupulous exactness, and to dread the slightest deviation from the narrow path of their duty. With these endowments of mind, and high sense of the duties of his office, it is not surprising, that amidst all the differences of sentiment which the jarring interests of individuals, or the more powerful influence of political faction, give rise to, thete should be but one opinion of the character of this eminent man, which is, that from the period of the institution of that court over which he presided, however conspicuous in particular departments might have been the merit of some of his predecessors, no man ever occupied the president’s chair, who combined in himself so many of the essential requisites for the discharge of that important office. But while we allow the merits of this great man in possessing, in their utmost extent, the most essential | requisites for the station which he filled, it is but a small derogation from the confessed eminence of his character when we acknowledge a deficiency in some subordinate qualities. Of these, what was chiefly to be regretted, and was alone wanting to the perfection of his mental accomplishments, was, that he appeared to give too little weight or value to those studies which are properly termed literary. This was the more remarkable in him, that, in the early period of his life, he had prosecuted himself those studies with advantage and success. In his youth he had made great proficiency in classical learning; and his memory retaining faithfully whatever he had once acquired, it was not unusual with him, even in his speeches on the bench, to cite, and to apply with much propriety, the most striking passages of the ancient authors. But for these studies, though qualified to succeed in them, it does not appear that he ever possessed a strong bent or inclination. If he ever felt it, the weightier duties of active life, which he was early called to exercise, precluded the opportunity of frequently indulging it; and perhaps even a knowledge of the fascinating power of those pursuits, in alienating the mind from the severer but more necessary occupations, might have inclined him at last to disrelish from habit, what it had taught him at first to resist from principle. That this principle was erroneous, it is unnecessary to consume time in proving. It is sufficient to say, that as jurisprudence can never hope for any material advancement as a science, if separated from the spirit of philosophy, so that spirit cannot exist, independent of the cultivation of literature. That the studies of polite literature, and an acquaintance with the principles of general erudition, while they improve the science, add lustre and dignity to the profession of the law, cannot be denied. So thought all the greatest lawyers of antiquity. So thought, among the moderns, that able judge and most accomplished man, of whose character we have traced some imperfect features, lord Arniston, the father of the late lord president; of which his inaugural oration, as it stands upon the records of the faculty of advocates, bears ample testimony. His son, it is true, afforded a strong proof, that the force of natural talents alone may conduct to eminence and celebrity. He was rich in native genius, and therefore felt not the want of acquired endowments. But in this he left an example to be admired, not imitated. | Few inherit from nature equal powers with his; and even of himself it must be allowed, that if he was a great man without the aids of general literature, or of cultivated taste, be must have been still a greater, had he availed himself of those lights which they furnish, and that improvement which they bestow. His useful and valuable life was terminated on the 13th of December 1787. His last illness, which, though of short continuance, was violent in its nature, he bore with the greatest magnanimity. He died in the seventy-fifth year of his age, in the perfect enjoyment of all his faculties; at a time when his long services might have justly entitled him to ease and repose, but which the strong sense of his duty would not permit him to seek while his power of usefulness continued; at that period, in short, when a wise man would wish to finish his course; too soon indeed for the public good, but not too late for his own reputation. 1

1 Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, vol. II. Sir E. Brydges’g Ppeyage,