Home, Henry

, usually called Lord Kames, an eminent Scotch lawyer, philosopher, and critic, the son of George Home of Kames, in the county of Berwick, was born at Kames in 1696. He was descended from an ancient and honourable family; being on his father’s side, the great grandson of sir John Home of Renton, whose ancestor was a cadet of the family of the earls of Home, who held the office of lord justice-clerk in the reign of king Charles II. His mother was a daughter of Mr. Walkinshaw of Barrowfield, and grand-daughter of Mr. Robert Baillie, principal of the university of Glasgow, of whom an account is given in our third volume. His father having lived beyond his income, and embarrassed his affairs, Henry, on entering the world, had nothing to trust to but his own abilities and exertions, a circumstance which although apparently unfavourable, was always most justly regarded by him as the primary cause of his success in life. The only education he had was from private instructions at home from a tutor of the name of Wingate, of whom he never spoke in commendation.

With no other stock of learning than what he had acquired from this Mr. Wingate, he was, about 1712, bound by indenture to attend the office of a writer of the signet in Edinburgh, as preparatory to the profession of a writer or solicitor before the supreme court; but circumstances inspired him with the ambition of becoming an advocate; and now being sensible of his defective education, he resumed the study of the Greek and Latin languages, to which he added French and Italian, and likewise applied himself to the study of mathematics, natural philosophy, logic, ethics, and metaphysics. These pursuits, which he followed at the same time with the study of the law, afforded, independently of their own value, a most agreeable variety of employment to his active mind. His attention appears to have been much turned to metaphysical investigation, for which he all his life entertained a strong predilection. About 1723, he carried on a correspondence with the celebrated Andrew Baxter, and Dr. Clarke, upon subjects of that kind. | In January 1724, he was called to the bar, at a time when bath the bench and bar were filled by men of uncommon eminence. As he did not possess in any great degree the powers of an orator, he engaged for some time but a moderate share of practice as a barrister. In 1728, he published a folio volume of “Remarkable Decisions of the Court of Session,” executed with so much judgment, that he began to be regarded as a young man of talents, who had his profession at heart, and would spare no pains to acquit himself, with honour, in the most intricate causes in which he might be employed. His practice was quickly increased; and after 1732, when he published a small volume, entitled “Essays upon several subjects in Law,” he was justly considered as a profound and scientific lawyer. These essays afford an excellent example of the mode of reasoning which he afterwards pursued in most of his jurisprudential writings, and, in the opinion of his biographer, furnish an useful model for that species of investigation.

Mr. Home, in every period of his life, was fond of social intercourse, and with all his ardour of study, and variety of literary and professional occupations, a considerable portion of his time was devoted to the enjoyments of society in a numerous circle of acquaintance. Among his early friends or associates we find the names of colonel Forrester, Hamilton of Bangour, the earl of Findlater, Mr. Oswald, David Hume, and Dr. (afterwards bishop) Butler, with whom he had a correspondence. In 1741 be married miss Agatha Drummond, a younger daughter of James Drummond, esq. of Blair, in the county of Perth. His fortune being then comparatively small, ceconomy became a necessary virtue, but unfortunately, this lady, who had a taste for every thing that is elegant, was particularly fond of old china; and soon after her marriage had made such frequent purchases in that way as to impress her husband with some little apprehension of her extravagance. After some consideration, he devised an ingenious expedient to cure her of this propensity. He framed a will, bequeathing to his spouse the whole of the china that should be found in his possession at his death; and this deed he immediately put into her own hands. The success of the plot was complete; the lady was cured from, that moment of her passion for old china. This stratagem his biographer justly considers as a proof of the authors intimate knowledge of the human mind, and discernment | of the power of the passions to balance and restrain each other. It is, indeed, in its contrivance and result, equally honourable to the husband and wife.

The mode in which Mr. Home occupied his time, both in town and country, appears to have been most judicious. In town he was an active and industrious barrister; in the country he was a scientific farmer on his paternal estate, which came to him in a very waste and unproductive condition. He had the honour to be among the first who introduced the English improvements in agriculture into Scotland. Amidst all this he found leisure, during the vacations of the court, to compose those various works which he has left to posterity. In 1741 he published, in 2 vols. fol. the “Decisions of the Court of Session, from its institution to the present time, abridged and digested tinder proper heads, in the form of a Dictionary,” a composition of great labour, the fruit of many years, and a work of the highest utility to the profession of the law in Scotland. In 1747 he published a small treatise entitled “Essays upon several subjects concerning British Antiquities.” The subjects are, the feudal law; the constitution of parliament; honour and dignity; succession or descent; and the hereditary and indefeasible rights of kings. These were delicate subjects at that time in Scotland, and the general doctrines perhaps more seasonable than now.

In 1751 Mr. Home, though now at the head of the bar, published a work entitled “Essays on the principles of Morality and Natural Religion,” the object of which is to prove that the great laws of morality which influence the conduct of man as a social being, have their foundation in the human constitution; and are as certain and immutable as those physical laws which regulate the whole system of nature. His biographer attributes this publication to the desire of its author to counteract some sceptical doctrines of his friend David Hume, which he had in vain endeavoured to suppress. That the work, however, had not this effect, we know, in point of fact; and we have no hesitation in. asserting that it was not calculated to produce the effect, as it leads to consequences as fatal as any which have followed David Hume’s works. It accordingly attracted the notice of the church of Scotland, although he appears to have had friends enough in the general assembly to prevent its being censured. In some respect he saw his error, and | endeavoured to amend it in a second edition; but in the third it seems doubtful whether he has not retained the roost offensive of his opinions.

In Feb. 1752 he was appointed one of the judges of the court of session, and took his seat on the bench by the title of lord Kames. This promotion was attended with the general satisfaction of his country, as he stood high in the public esteem, both on the score of his abilities, and knowledge of the laws, and his integrity and moral virtues. As a judge, his opinions and decrees were dictated by an acute understanding, an ardent feeling of justice, and a perfect acquaintance with the jurisprudence of his country; which, notwithstanding the variety of pursuits in which his comprehensive mind had already found exercise, had always been his principal study, and the favourite object of his researches. The situation which he now filled, while it extended his opportunities of promoting every species of improvement, gave the greater weight and efficacy to his patronage; and his example and encouragement were more particularly beneficial in exciting a literary spirit, which now began to prevail among his countrymen, and which was destined to shine forth in his own times with no common lustre. It was but a just tribute to his merit, when, many years afterwards, Dr. Adam Smith, then in the height of his literary reputation, said, in reference to a remark on the great number of eminent writers which Scotland had of late years produced, “We must every one of us acknowledge Kames for our master.

It was not, however, to the cultivation and patronage of literature, and to the duties of a judge in the court of session, that the time and talents of lord Kames were wholly confined. He was appointed in 1755 a member of the board of trustees for the encouragement of the fisheries, arts, and manufactures of Scotland, and soon after one of the commissioners for the management of the forfeited estates; and in the discharge of these important trusts he was a zealous and faithful servant of the public. Amidst such multifarious employment, he found leisure to compose, and in 1757, to publish, in one volume 8vo, “The Statute Law of Scotland abridged, with historical notes,” a work which still retains its rank among those which are in daily use with barristers and practitioners. About this period he conceived the hope of improving the law of Scotland by assimilating it as much as possible with the law of | England. With this view, after corresponding on the subject with the lord chancellor Hardwicke, he published “Historical Law Tracts,1759, 8vo. In this he advances some singular opinions on the subject of the criminal law, which are, in our opinion, but feebly defended by his biographer. The work, however, has undergone several editions, and still preserves its reputation; and with the same view of counteracting, as far as possible, the inconveniencies arising troin two systems of law regulating the separate divisions of the united kingdom, he published in 1760 his “Principles of Equity,” fol. Courts of equity and common law are separate in England, but the powers of both are united in the supreme civil court of Scotland, and it is for this union lord Kames contends in the publication just mentioned.

The greater part of lord Kames’s works had hitherto been connected with his profession, but in 1761 he published a small volume on the elementary principles of education, entitled an “Introduction to the art of Thinking,” This has often been reprinted as an useful manual for young persons, although some parts of it are rather above their comprehension. In 1762 he published, in 3 vols. 8vo, his “Elements of Criticism,” the work, which, of all others, is best known in England. We cannot, however, agree with his biographer, that it entitles him to be considered as the inventor of philosophical criticism, although he has unquestionably done much to advance it, and some of his principles have been followed by subsequent writers on the subject. Blair is evidently much indebted to him.

In 1763 he was appointed one of the lords of justiciary, the supreme criminal tribunal in Scotland. The mere fact of his appointment is stated by his biographer, but we have seen a letter from him in which he applied for it to a nobleman in power. Tins important duty he continued to discharge with equal diligence and ability, and with the strictest rectitude of moral feeling. In 1766 he received a very large addition to his income by succession to an. estate called Blair-Drummond, which devolved on his wife by the death of her brother, and which furnished him with opportunities of displaying his taste and skill in embellishing his pleasure-grounds and improving his lands. His ideas as a land-holder do him much honour: “In point of morality,” he says in a letter to the late duchess of Gordon, “I consider, that the people upon our estates are trusted by | Providence to our care, and that we are accountable for our management of them to the great God, their Creator as well as ours.” Before this accession to his fortune he had published, in 1765, a small pamphlet on the progress of flax-husbandry in Scotland, with the patriotic design of stimulating his countrymen to continue their exertions in a most valuable branch of national industry. He was also very active in promoting the project of the canal between the Forth and Clyde, now completed, and which has been beneficially followed by other undertakings of a similar kind. In 1766 he published “Remarkable decisions of the Court of Session, from 1730 to 1752,” fol. a period which includes that of his own practice at the bar. These reports afford the strongest evidence of the great ability and legal knowledge of their compiler, but his biographer allows that the author’s own argument is generally stated with greater amplitude, and is more strenuously enforced than that which opposes his side of the question.

In 1774 he published, in 2 vols. 4to, his “Sketches of the History of Man,” which of all his works, if we except the “Elements of Criticism,” has been the most generally read. It is greatly to his honour that when many of his opinions were controverted, he not only received the hints and remarks with candour, but sought out and behaved with great liberality to the authors. In pursuance of his patriotic wish to improve the agriculture of his country, he published, in 1776, when he had attained the age of eighty, the “Gentleman Farmer, being an attempt to improve agriculture by subjecting it to the test of rational principles.” None of his works is more characteristic of his genius and disposition in all their principal features than this, which was one of the most useful books that had appeared at the time of its publication.

At the advanced period we have just mentioned, lord Kames’s constitution had suffered nothing from the attacks of old age. There was no sensible decay of his mental powers, or, what is yet more extraordinary, of the flow of his animal spirits, which had all the gaiety and vivacity of his early years. Indefatigable in the pursuit of knowledge; ever looking forward to some new object of attainment; one literary task was no sooner accomplished than another was entered upon with equal ardour and unabated perseverance. Jn 1777 he published “Elucidations respecting the Common and Statute Law of Scotland,” 8vo, in which | it is his object to vindicate the municipal law of his country from the reproach it has incurred from the writings of the old Scotch jurists. In 1780 he published a supplement to his “Remarkable Decisions,” under the title of “Select Decisions of the Court of Session,” recording the cases most worthy of notice from 1752 to 176S.

The subject of education had always been regarded by lord Kames in a most important point of view, and furnished the matter of that work with which he closed his literary labours. In 1781 he published, when in his eightyfifth year, an octavo volume entitled “Loose hints on Education, chiefly concerning the Culture of the Heart.A work composed at such an advanced age ought not to be subjected to rigorous criticism, yet there are many shrewd and useful remarks in the book, although mixed with others in which the decay of mental powers is visible. In the following year his constitution began to give way, principally from old age, for he had very little that could be called disease. In November he left his seat at BlairDrummoiid for Edinburgh, and the court of session meeting soon after, for the winter, he went thither on the first day of the term, and took his seat with the rest of the judges. He continued for some little time to attend the meetings of the court, and to take his share in its usual business, but soon became sensible that his strength was not equal to the effort. On the last day of his attendance he took a separate and affectionate farewell of each of his brethren. He survived that period only about eight days. He died December 27, 1782, in the eighty-seventh year of his age.

His excellent biographer, the late lord Woodhouselec, has drawn up his character with impartiality and just discrimination, without dwelling extravagantly on his virtues, or offensively and impertinently on his foibles. The latter appear to have been of a kind perhaps inseparable from, humanity in some shape or other, such as a degree of fondness for flattery, and somewhat, although certainly in a small proportion, of literary jealousy. A suspicion of lord Kames’s religious principles has long prevailed in his own, country, and his biographer has taken such pains on this subject as to leave the reader with an impression that lord Kames was more a friend to revealed religion than he appears to be in some of his writings; but while those writings remain, we question whether the suspicion to which | we allude can be effectually removed. Too much, however, cannot be said in favour of his genius and industry in many branches of literature; his private virtues and public spirit; his assiduity through a long and laborious life in the many honourable offices with which he was entrusted, and his zeal to encourage and promote every thing that tended to the improvement of his country, in laws, literature, commerce, manufactures, and agriculture. The preceding sketch has been taken, often literally, from lord Woodhouselee’s valuable work, which appeared in 1807, entitled “Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the hon. Henry Home of Kames, &c.” 2 vols. 4to, which contains what we have been in other instances indebted to,“Sketches of the progress of Literature and general improvement in Scotland during the greater part of the eighteenth century.1


Life as above. See also British Critic, vol. XXX. In which are many valuable remarks on the Life of lord Kames.