Wedderbuhn, Alexander

, earl of Rosslyn, and lord high chancellor of England, the descendant of an ancient Scotch family, was the eldest son of Peter Wedderburn, of Chesterhail, esq. one of the senators of the college of justice, in Scotland. He was born Feb. 13, 1733, and bred to the law, in which profession some of his ancestors had made a very distinguished figure. He is said to have been called to the bar when scarcely twenty years of age, and was making some progress in practice when an insult, or what he conceived to be such, from the bench, determined him to give up the farther pursuit of the profession in that country, and remove to England. Accordingly he came to London, and enrolled himself as a member of the Inner Temple in May 1753, and after the necessary preparatory studies, was called to the bar in November 1757. One of his main objects during his studies here, was to divest himself as much as possible of his national accent, and to acquire the English pronunciation and manner, in both which he was eminently successful under the instructions of Messrs. Sheridan and Macklin.

He appears to have soon acquired a name at the bar, and to have formed valuable connections, particularly with lord Bute and lord Mansfield, for in 1763 he was made king’s counsel, and at the same time became a bencher of | Lincoin’s Inn. He also obtained a seat in parliament, and soon had an opportunity of greatly improving his finances as well as his fame, by being the successful advocate for lord Clive. During his first years of sitting in parliament, he supported some of the measures of what were then termed the popular party; but had either seen his error, or his interest in another point of view, for in January 1771 he accepted the office of solicitor general, and from that time became a strenuous advocate for the administration who conducted the American war. In July 1778 he was appointed attorney-general, art office which even his enemies allow that he held with great mildness and moderation. It often happened to this distinguished lawyer, that his single advice had great influence with the party to which he belonged, and it is said that his opinion only was the means of saving the metropolis from total destruction by the mob of 1780. When his majesty held a privycouncil to determine on the means of putting a stop to these outrages, Mr. Wedderburn was ordered by the king to deliver his official opinion. He stated in the. most precise terms, that any such assemblage of depredators might be dispersed by military force, without waiting for forms, or reading the riot act. tf Is that yCur declaration of the Jaw, as attorney-general?“said the king; Mr. Wedderburn answering distinctly in the affirmative;” Then let it so be done," rejoined the king; and the attorney-general drew up the order immediately, by which the riots were suppressed in a few hours, and the metropolis saved.

Immediately after this commotion he was appointed chief justice of the common pleas, and called to the house of peers by the name, style, and title of lord Loughborough, baron of Loughborough, in the county of Leicester. In 1783 his lordship was appointed first commissioner for keeping the great seal; but as soon as the memorable coalition between loVd North and Mr. Fox look place, his lordship joined his old friend lord North, and remained in opposition to the administration of Mr. Pitt. It has been said that it was by his advice that Mr. Fox was led to act the unpopular part which lost him so many friends during his majesty’s indisposition in 1788-9. In 1793, when many members both of the house of lords and commons, formerly in opposition, thought it their duty to rally round the throne, endangered by the example of Fiance, lord Loughborough joined Mr. Pitt, and on Jan. 27th of that | year, was appointed lord high chancellor of England, which ' office he held until 1801, when he was succeeded by thfe present lord Eldon. In Oct. 1795 his lordship obtained a new patent of a barony, by the title of lord Loughborough, of Loughborough in the county of Surrey, with remainder severally aud successively to his nephews, sir James Sinclair Erskine, bart. and John Erskine, esq. and by patent, April 21, 1801, was created earl of Rosslyn, in the county of Mid Lothian, with the same remainders.

His lordship, feeling the infirmities of age coming fast upon him, retired from the post of chancellor at this time, and lived chiefly in the country, sometimes at his seat, near Windsor, and also occasionally at Weymouth, when the royal family, at whose parties both he and his countess were frequent guests, happened to be there. By sobriety, regularity, and temperance, he doubtless prolonged a feeble existence, but at length died suddenly, at Baileys, between Slough and Salt Hill, on Thursday, January 3, 1S05, about one o’clock in the morning, in the seventysecond year of his age, of an apoplectic fit. He was interred a few days after in St. Paul’s cathedral.

His lordship was first married Dec. 31, 17G7, to BettyAnne, daughter and heir of John Dawson, of Morley, in the county of York, esq. but her ladyship dying, Feb. J5th, 1781, without issue, his lordship married, July 1782, Charlotte, daughter of William the first and sister to the late William, viscount Courtenay, but had no issue by her.

Lord Rosslyn never published but one. work, to which his name was affixed; this made its appearance in 1793, and was entitled “Observations on the state of the English Prisons, and the means of improving them; communicated to the rev. Henry Zou’ch, a justice of the peace, by the right hon. lord Loughborough, now lord high chan-, cellor of Great Britain.” For some tyme, Mr. Wraxall informs us, he was almost convinced that his lordship was the author of Junins’s letters, notwithstanding the severity with which he is treated in those celebrated invectives; but in this opinion few perhaps will now coincide.

It is difficult, says the most candid of his biographers, to speak of public men, so lately deceased, free from prejudices created by individual feelings. Lord Rosslyn appeared to be a man of subtle and plausible, rather than of solid talents. His ambition was great, and his desire of office unlimited. He could argue with great ingenuity on | either side, so that it was difficult to anticipate his future by his past opinions. These qualities made him a valuable partizan and a useful and efficient member of any administration. Early in his public career he incurred the powerful satire of Churchill in a couplet which adhered to him for the remainder of his life. He had been destined for the Scotch bar; a fortunate resolve brought him to the wealthier harvest of English jurisprudence. His success was regular and constant; and in the character of solicitorgeneral he was long a powerful support to the parliamentary conduct of lord North’s ministry. When the alarm of the French revolution, which separated the heterogeneous opposition formed by the whigs under Fox, and the tories under lord North, obtained him a seat on the woolsack, he filled that important station during the eight years he occupied it, not, perhaps, in a manner perfectly satisfactory to the suitors of his court, nor always with the highest degree of dignity as speaker of the upper house; but always with that pliancy, readiness, ingenuity, and knowledge, of which political leaders must have felt the convenience, and the public duly appreciated the talent. Yet his slender and flexible eloquence, his minuter person, and the comparative feebleness of his bodily organs, were by no means a match for the direct, sonorous, and energetic oratory, the powerful voice, dignified figure, and bold manner of Thurlow; of whom he always seemed to stand in awe, and to whose superior judgment he often bowed against his will. 1


Collins’s Peerage, by sir E. Brydges. Pack’s edition of the Royal and Noble Airthors. —Gent. Mag. vol. LXXV. Wraxall’s Memoirs.