Edward Law

Edward Law aka Baron Ellenborough


(16th November 1750 – 13th December 1818)

THE family of the Laws. to which the late Lord Ellenborough was so distinguished an ornament. did not emerge from the humbler ranks of society, till his father. Dr Edmund Law, was consecrated Bishop of Carlisle, in the year 1768. Previous to this. however, the learned and pious prelate had attracted great esteem and honor. both at Cambridge as a scholar, and in the Church as a divine, having published several religious tracts of the most benevolent and virtuous tendency. He was the son of a beneficed clergyman, and born at Cartmel, in Lancashire, though his progenitors belonged to the county of Westmorland, where they had long lived in the unnoted quiet of private life.

EDWARD LAW, the fourth son of the Bishop of Carlisle, by a daughter of John Christian, Esq. of Unerigg, Cumberland, was horn in 1750, at Great Salkeld in that county. At Battsam, near Cambridge, where his uncle, the Rev. Humphry Christian, resided, he imbibed all the elements of early education. and displayed that precocity of talent which afforded fair promise of the eminence he was destined to attain. At the age of twelve, he was by his father's influence, placed on the establishment of the Charter House, and there continued to prosecute his studies with undiminished success, till 1768, when he removed to St Peters College, Cambridge, of which the Bishop of Carlisle had not only been a member in his youth, but master in 1756. With this high paternal example before him, with every thing to stimulate to emulation, and with a mind naturally of the most vigorous character, and already largely cultivated; it may readily be believed, that Mr. Edward Law applied himself sedulously to perfect the superstructure, the foundations of which he had so auspiciously laid. Accordingly, in 1771, he gained one of the Chancellor's medals ; and two years later, carried off one of the Member's prizes, and ranked as Senior Bachelor.

He also took his first degree with much eclat, and soon after entered at Lincoln's Inn, having chosen the profession designated by his name, and in which his name will long be respected. He, consequently, entered upon the line of a Special Pleader, took pupils, and for a period practised (as the phrase is) under the Bar. Out of this course, great future advantages arose, not only in the formation of connexions with a wide circle of wealthy ,clients, but in the acquisition of a thorough practical knowledge of the various branches of legislation, upon which he was to be first the advocate and then the judge. But, emulous of more public fame, Mr. Law determined to quit his chambers for the court; and having been called to the Bar, he chose the Northern Circuit as the field of his enterprise.. la the North the estimation of his venerable parent had paved the way for his favourable debut, and his own abilities were well calculated to “ improve the occasion." Yet so much does the advancement of a Barrister depend upon time and chance, that it was sot till Messrs.  Lee and Wallace, the then leaders of the circuit, and in succession Attorney-Generals, retired from the reaping of their rich harvest, that the subject of our Memoir began to assert the prerogative justly due to his very superior attainments. When the opening was made, however, he and Mr. Scott (the illustrious Lord High Chancellor of England for many years of difficulty and peril) took the foremost rank in their turn ; and the lucrative and aggrandizing practice of this circuit was almost monopolized by them. Sic iter ad astra.

From the business of the North sprang its usual porportion of business in Town ; and Mr. Law, in the fulness of faculty and intellect—employed upon important cases in the Court of King's Bench, where Mansfield presided, whence Dunning was retreating, and where Erskine was only dawning into celebrity—speedily gave proof of the sterling stuff of which he was made. " The first cause in which he distinguished himself, (says the Annual Obituary, 1819, and we believe correctly,) is said to have sprung out of a question of Insurance ; and as this occurred at Guildhall, much city business followed of course." A silk gown, obtained through the friendship of Judge Buller, accelerated his career ; and though it is hinted that Lord Kenyon, when he became Chief Justice of the King's Bench, looked coldly on the aspiring Barrister, yet it was evident to all shrewd observers, that he was most likely to urge his way to the topmost seat, is spite of frowns, of disapproval, or of competition. It is a memorable circumstance, that he who was to become the Jove of this legal sphere, was wont to allude in open court to the presumed hostility of Lord Kenyon. by exclaiming " Et Jupiter hostis;"—Lord Kenyon, however. was not so much of the Jupiter, whose nod was law, as his successor who thus admonished him.

A remarkable political event and constitutional trial, in the year 1785, :brought into full play and exercise all the intellectual powers and capacity of Mr. Law. We allude to the impeachment of Warren Hastings, whose counsel he was selected to be. This splendid task Mr. Erskine had declined ; and, with Mr. Plomer and Mr. Dallas, he had to sustain the whole weight of such accusers as Burke, Fox, and Sheridan, aided by a mass of experience and talent, which even without time leaders might have appalled the boldest heart. But from the first to the last, he met the accusations with the firmest restistance.Assertion he repelled with assertion ; for allegations he demanded proofs : and above all things he took his stand on criminal, and, as it might be, a capital charge against those parliamentary usages that would deprive the accused of the same means of defence, which the law allowed to the guiltiest of the guilty in the courts below. Upon this, his arguments were so warm and zealous, that the High Court of Parliament asserted its dignity by calling him to order—a ceremony which is sometimes performed, after the party so called to order has said and done all he desired to go to the tribunal or the public. In truth, a skilful and even a pertinacious debater knows well how to baffle this formula ; which is undoubtedly necessary to check outrage, but is rarely of any effect to prevent the utterance either of disagreeable truths or offensive misrepresentations.

In the fifth year of this memorable case, Mr. Law was enabled to enter upon his client's defence ; and whether we consider the complexity and extent of the inquiry, the clashing of the evidence, the bitterness and the extraordinary force arrayed on the side of the accusers, the interests at stake, the public anxiety, or the multitude of conflicting opinions to which it had given rise, it must be acknowledged that his exertions were worthy of the occasion. In his conclusion he drew a splendid picture of the virtues of the ex-Governor-General, and painted him as "an injured, persecuted man ; pure, spotless, and unstained ;" a character which, making due allowances for human frailties and imperfections, has been pretty nearly sanctioned by the voice of the succeeding generation.

The result of this brilliant as well as solid effort was a great increase of professional reputation, and an overflow of that practice which had been restricted by devotedness to so engrossing a defence. Mr. Law ran rapidly on, till in 1801, when, on a change of Ministry the offices of Attorney and Solicitor General were vacated, he was at once appointed to the former eminent and onerous situation. He was at the same time knighted, and, as Sir Edward Law, discharged the duties of his trust, during its short continuance, with that measure of combined firmness and forbearance, which united all suffrages in his praise.

On the death of Lord Kenyon, his "Jupiter hostis," in 1802, he was nominated to be his successor, and took his seat as Lord Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench, with the title of Baron Ellenborough, of Ellenborough in the County of Cumberland. His patent was dated April 10th, 1802, and the title derived from a small fishing-village, near which his ancestors had lived for many generations, under the provincial appellation of " Statesmen ;"—in their case, meaning reputable yeomanry or copy-holders, probably without a dream of the Statesman and Judge who was to issue from their stock.

In the Court of King's Bench the abilities of Lord Ellen-borough were prominently displayed : and we well remember the doubts, so oft repeated, that when he ceased to fill that place, it would not be possible to replenish it with his like again. This, however, can only be stated as an evidence of the exalted opinion entertained of him ; for it is the glory and the strength of this country, as the tide of time sweeps the wisest and the best to their craves, to find an everlasting succession of talent fit to encounter all emergencies, and to occupy the most important stations with honor to themselves, and advantage to the community.

The promptitude, the acuteness, and the legal knowledge of Lord Ellenborough, stamped his decisions with great authority; and, without particularizing any of the political struggles which troubled the time, and gave rise to various sentiments, as party seemed to be advanced, or faction thrown back, by the determinations of the courts of law, we will venture to say, that a man of stronger mind or more perfect integrity never pronounced a judgment. The warmth of his temper was perhaps the only foible which could truly be imputed to him as a fault ; and this, it must be allowed, was occasionally observable both in his judicial and political course.

Of the latter we shall now say a few words. When the famous "Talents" administration came into power, the Lord Chief Justice was made a Cabinet Minister, and appointed to a place which gave him a certain control over the receipts of the Exchequer_ This was held by many to be an unconstitutional act, and was reprobated by the opponents of the Government, as an improper union of the judicial and political character. The latter. however, did not long exist, to impeach the former.

As a Peer in Parliament, Lord Ellenborough frequently took a share in the debates. He strenuously opposed the concession of fresh privileges to the Roman Catholics ; and on the trial of Lord Melville, concurred in finding that nobleman guilty on six of the charges. It was upon the latter occasion that an untoward dispute arose between him and the Lord Chancellor, which was happily stopped in seasonable time by the good humour of the latter. Upon the Catholic claims, when a petition was presented by Lord Grenville in their favour, in 1805, his Lordship thus expressed his opinions :-

" The question now before us is not a question of toleration in the enjoyment and exercise of civil and religious rights, but of the grant of political power. All that toleration can require in respect to civil and religious immunities, has long been satisfied in its most enlarged extent." And his Lordship thus concluded a very impressive and very able speech. " I feel it my duty, my Lords, now and for ever, as long as the Catholic religion shall maintain its ecclesiastical and spiritual union with the See of Rome, to resist, to the utmost of my power, this and every other proposition which is calculated to produce the undoing and overthrow of all that our fathers have regarded, and ourselves have felt and known, to be the most venerable and useful of our establishments, both in church and state"  When we reflect upon the parentage of the noble speaker, we can be at no loss to account for the fervour of these sentiments : and when we look at the results of the measures thus vainly opposed. as unhappily exemplified by the present agitated and threatening state of Ireland, we must also confess with Lord Ellenborough, at the distance of a quarter of a century, that conceding the question involved a " grant of political power, and a power likely to be most dangerously employed.

Lord Ellenborough was one of the Commissioners nominated to investigate the conduct of the Princess of Wales ; and when the libellous and venal press began to raise its hundred rumours and scandals on that subject, his Lordship delivered his memorable speech, in which he declared the accusation against the Commissioners to be " as false as hell in every part :" this was a strong expression, but not more strong, perhaps, than an indignant spirit, conscious of its own rectitude, might be allowed to use in any, or even the most august assembly upon earth.

For some months previous to his relinquishment of all his judicial functions in 1818, Lord Ellenborough's health had been visibly broken ; and it is thought that the fatigues and issue of the trials of Hone, where the Jury found verdicts in opposition to his charges, had a considerable effect upon his declining vigour. Hone's Parodies, entitled " The late John Wilkes's Catechism," "The Political Litany," and "The Sinecurist's Creed," were prosecuted as impious and profane libels ; and his Lordship, with that respect for the Protestant religion of the country, which, as we have seen animated him on other occasions, held them distinctly to be so, and appealed to the Jury as Christians. to decide accordingly. The cases occupied two days, and. in all. the Jars declared the defendant  Not Guilty ;".- his Lordship evincing not only much displeasure at so unexpected a result—but extreme lassitude, from the application he had bestowed upon the trials, while evidently labouring under severe indisposition. Yet he afterwards appeared several times in court, and evinced no lack of mental energy. But the final hour was approaching, and on Sunday, the 13th of December, 1818, his Lordship breathed his last.

His frame was masculine, and his countenance fine. His eye was dark and penetrating, and his expression equally striking, whether exhibiting the severity of the judge, or the suavity of the accomplished gentleman. His advancement was (as we have observed) exceedingly rapid, but the preceding path had been trodden with care and diligence. Thus, though it has been said, that in speed he proved far more fortunate than a Mansfield, a [Kenyon, an Eldon, or a Thurlow, it must also be remembered that his original merits consisted in long application and painful study. in a bold and manly address, in a most discriminating intellect in an utter contempt of fear, in a nervous eloquence. and in a feeling of that superiority which is sure to command success.

In 1789, his Lordship married Anne. the daughter of Captain George Philip Towry, R.N.. and on the maternal side descended from the famous Sir Thomas More, by whom he had a numerous family of sons and daughters. Of these we may mention Edward his successor, the present Peer ; and Charles-Ewen, King's Counsel, who has just been elected, after an honorable course at the bar, to the responsible office of Common Sergeant of the City of London. Two also of his Lordship's brothers have risen to high dignities in the church. John the eldest died Bishop of Elphin ; and the country has yet the happiness to possess in George Henry, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, one of the most valuable prelates that now adorn the episcopal bench.

We thus see the rise of a family, which it may be expected will call on future biographers (whose labours will be far more comprehensive than ours) to trace their high lineage through succeeding generations ; and point to the example of their founder, as a stimulus to the cultivation of noble endowments, and to the passage of no ignoble life.

The following Letter from His LATE MAJESTY, was addressed to LORD ELLENBOROUGH, upon his Retirement from the Office of Chief Justice of England:—

MY Dear Friend,
I have only this moment been informed of your arrival in town, and I cannot suffer it to pass without conveying  to you the heartfelt grief with which I received from the Chancellor, a few days ago. his report of the melancholy necessity, under which you have found yourself, of tendering your resignation, and of your retiring from public life.
As is my own private feelings upon this most sad occasion, I will not attempt their expression, indeed that would be quite impossible ; but, as a public man, I do not hesitate most distinctly to state, that it is the heaviest calamity, above all in our present
circumstances, that could have befallen the country. My Lord, your career, since the
moment you took your seat, and presided in the high court committed to your charge,
can admit of but one sentiment, and but of one opinion : it has been glorious to yourself, and most beneficial to the nation; you have afforded an example, combining wisdom with every other talent and virtue which exalt your character, and place it beyond all praise.—With these sentiments, and such a picture before me, where can I hope to find, or where can I look for that individual who shall not leave a blank still, in that great machine of which you were the main-spring and brightest ornament. If however, my dear Friend, there can be consolation for us under such afflicting circumstances, that consolation is, that you carry with you into your retirement, the veneration, gratitude, and admiration of the good, and the unbounded love and affection of those who ,have had the happiness of associating more intimately with you in private life. I confess that the magnitude of the loss we are about to sustain presses so heavily upon me, that I have not the power of adding more, than that my constant and most fervent wishes for your health, comfort, and happiness, will ever attend you, and that I remain always,
My dear Lord, your most sincere and affectionate Friend,
Carlton House. Oct. 18, 1818. (Signed) GEORGE P. R.