Mackenzie, Sir George

, an ingenious and learned writer, and eminent lawyer of Scotland, was descended from an ancient and noble family, his father Simon Mackenzie being brother to the earl of Seaforth. He was born at Dundee, in the county of Angus, in 1636, and gave early proofs of an extraorJinary genius, having gone through the usual classic authors, at ten years of age. He was then sent to the universities of Aberdeen and St. Andrew’s, where he finished his studies in logic and philosophy before he had attained his sixteenth year. After this, he turned his thoughts to the civil law, and to increase his knowledge of it, travelled into France, and became a close student in the university of Bourges, for about three years. On his return home, he was called to the bar, became an advocate in 1656, and gained the character of an eminent pleader in a few years.

While he made the law his profession and chief study, he cultivated a taste for polite literature; and produced some works which added not a little to his reputation. In 1660, came out his “Aretino, or serious Romance,” in which he shewed a gay and exuberant fancy. In 1663, he published his “Religio Stoici;” or a short discourse upon several divine and moral subjects, with a friendly address to the fanatics of all sects and sorts. This was followed, in 1665, by “A Moral Essay,” preferring solitude to | pubHe employment, and all its advantages; such as fame, command, riches, pleasures, conversation, &c. This was answered by John Evelyn, esq. in another essay, in which the preference was given to public employment. In 1667, he printed his “Moral gallantry;” a discourse, in which he endeavours to prove, that the point of honour, setting aside all other ties, obliges men to be virtuous; and that there is nothing so mean and unworthy of a gentleman, as vice: to which is added, a consolation against calumnies, shewing how to bear them with chearfulness and patience. Afterwards he published “The moral history of frugality,” with its opposite vices, covetousness, niggardliness, prodigality, and luxury, dedicated to the university of Oxford; and “Reason,” an essay, dedicated to the hon. Robert Boyle, esq. All these works, except “Aretino,” were collected and printed together at London, in 1713, 8vo, under the title of “Essays upon several moral subjects:” and have been regarded as abounding in good sense and wit, although upon the whole the reasoning is rather superficial. Besides these essays, which were the production of such hours as could be spared from his profession, he was the author of a play and a poem. The poem is entitled “Caelia’s country-house and closet;” and in it are the following lines upon the earl of Montrose:

"Montrose, his country’s glory, and its shame,

Caesar in all things equall’d, but his fame, &c."

Which our predecessor quoted principally to shew, that Pope himself, infinitely superior as his talents in poetry were, did not disdain to imitate this author, in his “Essay on Criticism:

"At length Erasmus, that great injur’d name.

The glory of the priesthood, and the shame, &c."

Soon after Mr. Mackenzie had been employed as counsel for the marquis of Argyle, he was promoted to the office of a judge in the criminal court; which he discharged with so much credit and reputation, that he was made king’s advocate in 1674, and one of the lords of the privycouncil in Scotland. He was also knighted by his majesty. In these offices he met with a great deal of trouble on account of the rebellions which happened in his time; and his office of advocate requiring him to act with severity, he did not escape being censured for having, in the deaths of some particular persons who were executed, stretched | the laws too far. This alludes to the noted trials of Baillie of Jerviswood, that of the earl of Argyle, and the prosecutions against Mitchel and Learmonth, events which make a great figure in the history of that unhappy period; but in the opinion of the late lord Woodhcusc lee, “his own defence will fully justify his conduct in the breast of every man whose judgment is not perverted by the same prejudices, hostile to all good government, which led those infatuated offenders to the doom they merited.” (See Mackenzie’s Works, Vindication of the government of Charles II.)

Upon the abrogation of the penal laws by James II. sir George, though he had always been remarkable for his loyalty, and censured for his zeal, thought himself obliged to resign his post; being convinced that he could not discharge the duties of it at that crisis with a good conscience. He was succeeded by sir John Dalrymple, who, however, did not long continue in it; for that unfortunate prince being convinced of his error, restored sir George to his post, in which he continued until the revolution, and then resigned it. He could not agree to the measures and terms of the revolution; he hoped that the prince of Orange would have returned to his own country, when matters were adjusted between the king and his subjects; but finding that the event proved otherwise, he quitted all his employments in Scotland, and retired to England, resolving to spend the remainder of his days in the university of Oxford. He accordingly arrived there in September 1689, and prosecuted his studies in the Bodleian library, being admitted a student there by a grace passed in the congregation June 2, 1690. In the spring following he went to London, where he contracted a disorder, of which he died May 2, 1691. His body was conveyed by land to Scotland, and interred with great pomp and solemnity at Edinburgh, his funeral being attended by all the council, nobility, college of justice, college of physicians, university, clergy, gentry, and a greater concourse of people than ever was seen on any similar occasion.

Besides the moral pieces mentioned above, he wrote several works to illustrate the laws and customs of his country, to vindicate the monarchy from the restless contrivances and attacks of those whom he esteemed its enemies, and to maintain the honour and glory of Scotland. To illustrate the laws and customs of his country, he published | A Discourse upon the laws and customs of Scotland in matters criminal,1674, 4to. “Idea eloquentiae tbrensis hodiernae, una cum actione forensi ex unaquaque juris parte,1681, 8vo. “Institutions of the laws of Scotland,1684, 8vo. “Observations upon the acts of parliament,1686, folio. Besides these, several other treatises of law are inserted in his works, printed at Edinburgh, 1716, in 2 vols. folio. In vindication of monarchy, he wrote his “Jus regium; or the just and solid foundations of monarchy in general, and more especially of the monarchy of Scotland; maintained against Buchanan, Naphthali, Doleman, Milton, &c.” Lond. 16S4, 8vo. This book being dedicated and presented by the author to the university of Oxford, he received a letter of thanks from the convocation. With the same view he published his * Discovery of the fanatic plot,“printed at Edinburgh, in 1684, folio; and his” Vindication of the government of Scotland during the reign of Charles II.“Also the” Method of Proceeding against Criminals and Fanatical Covenanters,“1691, 4to. The pieces which he published in honour of his nation, were as follow:” Observations on the Laws and Customs of Nations as to Precedency, with the science of heraldry, treated as a part of the civil law of nations; wherein reasons are given for its principles, and etymologies for its harder terms,“1680, folio.A Defence of the Antiquity of the Royal Line of Scotland; with a true account when the Scots were governed by the kings in the Isle of Britain,“1685, 8vo. This was written in answer to” An historical Account of Church-Government as it was in Great Britain and Ireland, when they first received the Christian religion,“by Lloyd, bishop of St. Asaph. Sir George’s defence was published in June 1685; but before it came out it was animadverted upon by Dr. Stillingfleet, who had seen it in manuscript in the preface to his” Origines Britannicae.“Sir George replied the year following, in a piece entitled” The Antiquity of the Royal Line of Scotland farther cleared and defended against the exceptions lately offered by Dr. Stillingfleet, in his Vindication of the Bishop of St. Asaph;" and here the controversy appears to have ended. It is remarkable, however, that sir George’s books were translated into Latin, printed at Utrecht in 1689, and then presented to William-Henry prince of Orange, who wrote two very polite letters of thanks to him for his performance. | Among the instances of this author’s zeal for his country, it is necessary to mention his founding of the lawyer’s library at Edinburgh, in 1689. This, which is now known by the name of the advocate’s library, was afterwards stored with variety of manuscripts, relating particularly to the antiquities of Scotland, and with a fine collection of books, in all sciences, classed in that excellent order, which he prescribed in an elegant Latin oration, pronounced upon the opening of it, and printed among his works.

Judging, says a late elegant and judicious writer, from the writings of sir George Mackenzie, his talents appear to have been rather splendid than solid. He certainly possessed uncommon assiduity and activity of mind, as the number and variety of his compositions testify; and perhaps the superficial manner in which he has treated many of those subjects foreign to his profession, is the less to be wondered at, in a man whose time was so occupied in professional duties. The obscurity and confusion that are discernible in some of his juridical discussions, may have arisen in a great measure from the rude, unmethodized, and almost chaotic state of the law of Scotland, both civil and criminal, in his days. On one account alone, although every other merit were forgotten, sir George Mackenzie is entitled to respect as a lawyer. He was the first who exploded from the practice of the criminal courts of Scotland that most absurd and iniquitous doctrine, that no defence was to be admitted in exculpation from a criminal indictment which was contrary to the libel (indictment); as, if John were accused of having murdered James, by giving him a mortal wound with a sword, it was not allowable for John to prove in his defence, that the wound was not given in any vital part, and that James died of a fever caught afterwards by contagion.

As an elegant scholar, lord Woodhouselee ranks sir George among the ornaments of his country. His Latin compositions are correct and ornate in no common degree. His style is evidently formed on the writings of Cicero, and the young Pliny; and though a little tinctured with the more 'florid eloquence of Quinctilian, is entirely free from the false embellishments and barbarisms of the writers of the lower ages. His “Idea Eloquentiae forensis,” is a masterly tractate, which enumerates and eloquently describes all the important requisites of a pleader, and gives the most judicious precepts for the cultivation of the | various excellencies, and the avoiding of the ordinary defects of forensic eloquence. His “Characteres quorundam apud Scotos Advocatorum,” evince a happy talent of painting, not only the great and prominent differences of manner in the pleaders of his age, but of discriminating, with singular nicety, and in the most appropriate terms, the more minute and delicate shades of distinction, which a critical judgment alone could perceive, and which could be delineated only by a master’s hand. It is, adds lord Woodhouselee, highly to the honour of this eminent man, that he appears to have possessed a true sense of the dignity of his profession; and that he perpetually endeavoured, as much by his example as by his precepts, to mark the contrast between the prosecution of the law, as a liberal and ingenuous occupation, and its exercise (too common) as a mercenary trust. 1


Life prefixed to his Works, fol. Lord Woodhouselee’s Life of Lord Raines. Laing’s History of Scotland. —Burnet’s Own Times.Gent. Mag. vol. LXIII. p. 515.