Murray, William, Earl Of Mansfield

, an eminent English lawyer, was fourth son of David, earl of Stormont, and was born March 2, 1705, at Perth, in Scotland. He was brought to England at the age of three years, for his education, which accounts for his always being free from the accent so peculiar in the natives of that country. He was educated at Westminster-school, being admitted a king’s scholar at the age of fourteen years. During the time of his being at school, he afforded proofs of his ability, not so much in poetry, as in declamation, and other exercises, which gave promise of the eloquence that grew up to such perfection when at the bar, and in parliament. At the election in May 1723, he stood first on the list of those scholars who were to go to Oxford, and was entered of Christ church June 18 of that year, where in 1727, he appears to have taken the degree of bachelor of arts; and, on the death of king George I. he was amongst those who contributed their poetical compositions, in Latin, on that event.

On June 26, 1730, he took the degree of master of ar,ts, and soon after made a tour on the continent. On his return, he became a member of Lincoln’s-inn; and, in due time, was called to the bar. Mr. Murray is among those rare instances of persons who very ‘early attained to reputation and practice in the profession. His talent was for public speaking, which gave him a superiority that enabled him to rival and excel those who were far beyond him in knowledge and experience. A reputation early attained gives a character which it is very difficult for time to change or eradicate. Mr. Murray’s premature success created an early impression that he was more of a speaker than a lawyer; and, while he was readily acknowledged to excel both old and young, in the one qualification, the world were long unwilling to allow him an ascendancy in | the other. His attachment to the belles lettres, and society with Mr. Pope and other wits of his time, gave countenance to the idea, that little time was left for Coke, Plowden, and the Year-hooks. But time and experience, as they improved Mr. Murray, gradually convinced the world, that his mind was equally made for jurisprudence or oratory.

We find him employed, so early as 1736, as an advocate against th bill of pains and penalties, which afterwards passed into a law, against the lord-provost and city of Edinburgh, for the riotous murder of captain Porteus. On Nov. 20, 1738, he married lady Elizabeth Finch, daughter of the earl of Winchelsea and, in November 1742, he was appointed solicitor- general in the room of sir John Strange, who resigned. He was also chosen representative of the town of Boroughbridge; and was afterwards returned for the same place in 1747 and 1754. In March 1746, he? was appointed one of the managers for the impeachment of lord Lovat by the House of Commons. It was his part to observe upon the evidence in reply to the prisoner; in this he displayed so much candour, as well as so much ability, that he was complimented by the prisoner no less than by the lord-chancellor Talbot, who presided at the trial.

In 1753, a most injurious attack was made upon Mr. Murray’s character on the following occasion: It had been said, that Dr. Johnson, a person then thought of for considerable preferment, and afterwards bishop of Worcester, a very intimate friend of Mr. Murray, was of Jacobitical principles, and had even drank the pretender’s health in a company near twenty years before. This story was thought of sufficient importance to induce Mr. Pelham, then minister, to write down to Newcastle to Mr. Fawcett, the recorder, who was the author of the story, to learn the truth. Mr. Fawcett answered this inquiry in an evasive manner; but, in a subsequent conversation with lord Ravensworth, added, that Mr. Murray and Mr. Stone had done the same several times. Lord Ravensworth thought, that, Mr. Stone holding an office about the prince, such a suggestion as to his loyalty and principles ought not to be slighted; and he made it so much a matter of conversation, that the ministry advised the king to have the whole information examined; and a proceeding was had in the council, and afterwards in, the House of Lords, for that purpose. When Mr. Murray heard of the committee being appointed to examine this | idle affair, he sent a message to the king, humbly to acquaint him, that, if he should be called before such a tribunal on so scandalous and injurious account, he would resign his office, and would refuse to answer. It came, however, before the House of Lords, on the motion of the duke of Bedford, on Jan. 22, 1753, who divided the house upon it, but the house was not told; and thus ended a transaction, which, according to lord Melcombe, was “the worst judged, the worst executed, and the worst supported point, he ever saw of such expectation.

On the advancement of sir Dudley Ryder to be chief justice of the king’s bench in 1754, Mr. Murray succeeded him as attorney-general, and, on his death in Nov. 1756, he succeeded him as chief justice of the King’s Bench. On his leaving Lincoln’s-inn, Mr. Yorke, son of the lord chancellor, made him a compliment of regret, in an elegant speech, which was answered by Mr. Murray, in one which abounds with panegyric on Mr. Yorke’s father, the then chancellor, whose merit he extols before those of Bacon, Clarendon, and Somers. He was sworn into his office on November 8, and took his seat on the bench Nov. 11. The motto on his Serjeant’s rings was “Servate Domum.” He was immediately after created baron of Mansfield, to him, and the heirs-male of his body.

From the first of his coming upon the bench of that court, he set himself to introduce regularity, punctuality; and dispatch in business. On the fourth day after his appointment, he laid it down, that, where the court had no doubt, they ought not to put the parties to the delay and expence of a farther argument. Such was the general satisfaction during the time he presided there, that the business of the court increased in a way never before known, and yet was dispatched as had never before been seen, whether in bank, or at nisi prius. “At the sitting for London and Middlesex,” says sir James Burrow, in the preface to his Reports, “there are not so few as eight hundred causes set down in a year, and all disposed of.” Respecting the business in barjk, he says, “notwithstanding the immensity of business, it is notorious, that, in consequence of method, and a very few rules, which have been laid down to prevent delay (even where the parties themselves would willingly consent to it), nothing now hangs in court. Upon the last day of the very last term, if we exclude such motions of the term as by the desire of | the parties went over of course, as peremptories; there was not a single matter of any kind that remained undetermined, excepting one case relating to the proprietary lordship of Maryland, which was professedly postponed on account of the present situation of America. One might speak to the same effect concerning the last day of any former term for some years backward.” The same reporter says, that, except in the c^se of Perrin and Blake, and the case of Literary Property, there had not been, from Nov. 6, 1756, to May 26, 1776, a final difference of opinion in the court in any case, or upon any point whatsoever; and it is remarkable too, that, excepting these two cases, no judgment given during the same period had been reversed, either in the exchequer chamber, or parliament; and even these two reversals were with great difference of opinion among the judges.

During the unsettled state of the ministry in 1757, lord Mansfield accepted, on April 9, the office of chancellor of the exchequer. At this juncture he was the means of effecting a coalition of parties, which formed an administration that carried to a high point of splendour the glory of the British arms. In the same year, on the retirement of lord Hardwicke, he was offered the great seal, which he refused.

At the commencement of the present reign, this noble lord was marked as an object of party rancour; and he continued exposed to the most malicious slander and invective for many years; but this made no interruption in the sedulous attention he ever paid to the duties of his office. For one short period of his life, he shewed himself in opposition to the government. During the administration of lord Rockingham, in 1765, he opposed the bill for repealing the stamp-act, and is supposed to have had some share in the composition of the protests on that occasion, though he did not sign them.

The affair of Mr. Wilkes’s outlawry was the next thing which brought upon this noble person the malicious attacks of party and faction. Whether this outlawry should be reversed or not, was a dry question of law, upon the wording of the record, and nothing could be more remote from considerations of expediency, and reasons of political moment; it was a matter wholly clerical, and better understood by the subordinate officers ol the court than by most on the bench. But this point of special pleading was made | an object of much popular expectation; and, on the judgment was to be given, not only the court, but the whole of Westminster-hall, and Palace-yard, were crowded with anxious spectators. The court had made up their minds to reverse the outlawry, so that Mr. Wilkes was let in to receive judgment on the conviction. Upon this occasion lord Mansfield took notice of the unusual appearance of popular heat that had been discovered and directed against the judges of that court, and, more especially, against himself, with a manliness that will ever do honour to his character. He declared his contempt of all the threats that had been used to intimidate the court from doing its duty. He said that such attempts could have no effect but that which would be contrary to their intent; leaning against their impression might give a bias the other way; but he hoped, and knew, that he had fortitude enough to resist even that weakness. “No libels, no threats, nothing that has happened, nothing that can happen, will weigh a feather against allowing the defendant, upon this and every other question, not only the whole advantage he is entitled to from substantial law and justice, but every benefit from the most critical nicety of form, which any other defendant could claim under the like objection. The only effect I feel,” says he, “is an anxiety to be able to explain the grounds upon which we proceed, so as to satisfy all mankind, that a flaw of form given way to, in this case, could not have been got over in any other.” It was upon this occasion that he delivered the following striking sentiment “I honour the king, and respect the people; but many things acquired by the favour of either, are, in my account, objects not worth ambition. I wish popularity, but it is that popularity which follows, not that which is run after.

In Jan. 1770 he was offered the great seal, which he declined; and it was put into commission again. In Hilary term, 1771, he declined the same offer, and it was delivered to Mr. Justice Bathurst. In 1770 an attack was made on this noble judicial character, both in the House of Lords and Commons. His direction to the jury, in the case of Woodfall, the printer, who was prosecuted for a libel, was called in question; but his lordship’s opinion, and that of the whole court, stood its ground. On Oct. 19, 1776, he was made an earl of Great Britain, by the title of earl of Mansfield, to him and his issue male; with | remainder to Louisa viscountess Stormont, and to her heirs-male by David viscount Stormont, her husband.

In the month of June, 1780, when the metropolis of the kingdom was exposed, for several days, to the depredations of a banditti, that took advantage of the tumultuous assemblies brought together by the protestant association, lord Mansfield was made an object of popular fury, and his house in Bloomsbury-square, with every thing in it, was burnt. This attack was so unexpected, that no preparation was made against it and he escaped only with his life. This was on Tuesday night, June 7 and he did not appear in court till June 14, the last day of term. When he took his seat, Mr. Douglas informs us, in his Reports, “the reverential silence that was observed was expressive of sentiments of condolence and respect more affecting than the most eloquent address the occasion could have suggested.” His lordship was entitled, amongst others, to recover the amount of his loss against the hundred. There was also a vote of the House of Commons, in consequence of which the treasury directed the surveyor of the board of works to apply to lord Mansfield, as one of the principal sufferers, requesting him to state the nature and amount of -his loss: but he declined this offer of compensation. “It does not become me,” says he, in his answer to the surveyorgeneral, “however great the loss may be, to claim or expect reparation from the state.

From this time, it seemed, as if popular odium had spent its fury, and had no longer any malice to direct against this noble person. Party rage seemed to be softened by this last act of mischief; and, during the remainder of his days, lord Mansfield seemed to unite all parties in one uniform sentiment of approbation and reverence for a tried and ancient servant of the public. The increase of years did not bring on such infirmities as to disable him from, discharging the duties of his station till about 1787: these, at length, bore so much upon him that he came to the resolution to resign his office, which he did in the month of June, 1788. Upon that occasion the gentlemen who practised at the bar of the court where he had so long presided, addressed to his lordship a letter, in which they lamented their loss, but remembered, with peculiar satisfaction, that his lordship was not cut off from them by the sudden stroke of painful distemper, or the more distressing of those extraordinary faculties which had so long disv | tinguished him among men; but, that it had pleased God to allow to the evening of a useful and illustrious life the purest enjoyment that nature had ever allotted to it. The unclouded reflections of a superior and unfading wind over its varied events, and the happy consciousness that it had been faithfully and eminently devoted to the highest duties of human society, in the most distinguished nation upon, earth. They expressed a wish that the season of this high satisfaction might bear its proportion to the lengthened days of his rctivity and strength. This letter had many signatures, and was, atthe desire of Mr. Bearcroft, the senior counsel in that court, transmitted to the venerable peer by Mr. (now lord) Erskine. Lord Mansfield instantly returned an answer, in which he said, that, if he had given any satisfaction, it was owing to the learning and candour of the bar; the liberality and integrity of their practice freed the judicial investigation of truth and justice from difficulties. The memory of the assistance he had received from them, and the deep impression which the extraordinary mark they had no v given him of their approbation and affection, had made upon his mind, would be a source of perpetual consolation in his decline of life, under the pressure of bodily infirmities, which made it his duty to retire.

His health continued to decline; but his mental faculties remained to the last very little impaired; he was glad to receive visitors, and talk upon the events of the time. Of the French revolution he is reported to have said, that it was an extraordinary event and, as it was without example, so it was without a prognostic no conjectures could be formed of its consequences. He lived to March 20, 1793, and departed this life in the eightyninth year of his age. He left no children; and the earldom, which was granted again by a new patent, in 1792, descended on his nephew, lord Stormont, together with his immense fortune. His will was dated April 17, 1782; it was written in his own hand, upon little more than a half sheet of paper. It begins thus: “When it shall please Almighty God to call me to that state, to which, of all I now enjoy, I can carry only the satisfaction of my own conscience, and a full reliance on his mercy, through Jesus Christ: I desire that my body may be interred as privately as may be; and, out of respect for the place of my early education, I should wish it to be in Westminster | abbey.” He was buried, about nine o’clock in the morning of March 28, in the same vault with his countess, who died April 10, 1784, in Westminster-abbey, between the late earl of Chatham and lord Robert Manners.

A life of this eminent lawyer is still a desideratum, but with the lapse of time, the means of procuring materials are placed farther and farther beyond the reach of modern, inquiry. Mr. Holliday, in his lately published “Life,” has done much, perhaps as much as can be done; but curiosity requires a knowledge of lord Mansfield in the more early and brilliant periods of his career, and that, perhaps, it may be impossible now to acquire. We shall, however, conclude our article with Dr. Kurd’s well-drawn statement of a part of his character, which first appeared in that prelate’s preface to Warburton’s works.

"Mr. Murray, afterwards earl of Mansfield, and lord chief justice of England, was so extraordinary a person, and made so great a figure in the world, that his name must go down to posterity with distinguished honour in the public records of the nation; for, his shining talents displayed themselves in every department of the state as well as in the supreme court of justice, his peculiar province, which he filled with a lustre of reputation, not equalled perhaps, certainly not exceeded, by any of his predecessors.

"Of his conduct in the House of Lords I can speak with the more confidence, because I speak from my own observation. Too goad to be the leader, and too able to be the dupe of any party, he was believed to speak his own sense of public measures; and the authority of his judgment was so high, that, in regular limes, the house was usually decided by it. He was no forward or frequent speaker, but reserved himself, as was fit, for occasions worthy of him. In debate he was eloquent as well as wise, or rather he became eloquent by his wisdom. His countenance and tone of voice imprinted the ideas of penetration, probity, and candour; but what secured yow attention and assent to all he said was his constant good sense, flowing in apt terms, and in the clearest method. He affected no sallies of the imagination, or bursts of passion; much less would he condescend to personal abuse, or to petulant altercation; All was clear candid reason, letting itself so easily into the minds of his hearers as to carry information and conviction with it. In a word, his public senatorial character very much resembled that of Messala, of whom Cicero says, | addressing himself to Brutus, < Do not imagine, Brutus, that for worth, honour, and a warm love of his country, any one is comparable to Messala;’ so that his eloquence, in which he wonderfully excels, is almost eclipsed by those virtues: and even in his display of that faculty his superior good sense shews itself most; with so much care and skill hath he formed himself to the truest manner of speaking His powers of genius and invention are confessedly of the first size, yet he almost owes less to them, than the diligent and studious cultivation of judgment.

In the commerce of a private life lord Mansfield was easy, friendly, and very entertaining, extremely sensible of worth in other men, and ready on all occasions to countenance and patronize it.1


Preceding edition of this Dictionary. Holiday’s Life. -Annual Register, and —Gent. Mag, see Indexes, &c. &c.