« PreviousContinue »
what he intends shall not be published until after he has ceased to be in any way responsible, is, generally speaking, of evil example. The universal condemnation of T. Moore's diary, in which he set down all the gossip he could pick up, and the conversations he heard in society, and left it as a means of obtaining money for his family-the somewhat severe censures pronounced on Lord J. Russell, for lending his name as the editor, out of kindness to the widow, in order to increase the price paid by the publishers-shows that the somewhat similar proceeding of Lord Cockburn is not exempt from a like blame. In one respect his position was more delicate than that of either T. Moore or Lord J. Russell. He became a judge soon after the book was written, and he knew it was to be published after he had died a judge, with the authority belonging to this high station. He thus was aware that there would go forth to the world, as well as to the Profession, all his caricatures of other judges, his predecessors-his stories and descriptions turning them into ridicule-his assertions (which we understand to be positively denied by others who lived at the same time) of their drinking upon the Bench, sometimes even to excess-and his grave charges against certain of the most eminent of their number, especially his condemnation of one whose integrity was spotless and character amiable, but whom he seriously likened to the most infamous and corrupt, as well as cruel, man that ever sat upon the Bench in this country, the execrable Jeffries. He knew that all this was to appear after his decease, and that it was to go forth as the deliberate opinion of a judge respecting his predecessors; deliberate, not only because carefully reduced to writing, but because left for publication, and therefore giving the narrative and the sentiments of the judge, who retracted nothing nor qualified anything written by him before he ascended the Bench.
When a person in this high position writes on such subjects, every one feels, and he himself ought to feel most anxiously, that each statement and each opinion respecting others must be carefully weighed, and given with scrupulous exactness. We may not go so far as to assert that he is bound to the same abstinence and the same accuracy, when he only publishes what
he had written while in a private station. But in a very considerable degree he must be so held bound; and the test of this is obvious. Would Lord Cockburn have published his work himself? No one can believe it possible. Then why not? Obviously because he would have felt that the act of publication was a restatement of the matters in the book, and that the effect would be, the judge telling all these stories, and pronouncing all these censures, by making public what the barrister had written in private. Whatever prevented him from giving the book to the world while he was alive to bear the blame of it, proves that he ought not to have left it behind him; and it also proves that his family gained a profit at the expense of his memory-a profit to which they were not entitled in any view whatever, unless he left injunctions upon them to publish. Some parts of the book they would not have been entitled to publish, even if he had desired it, because no relative or friend has a right to publish any person's writings if they clearly reflect great discredit upon him. Thus the wish of T. Moore to have his diary published, is no kind of excuse for Lord J. Russell, because the publication has incalculably injured the author's reputation. So he had no right to publish some passages in Mr. Fox's letters, which are very injurious to him; and still less had Mr. Southey's family a right to give the same blow to his character, which every reader of the late publication at once perceives has been inflicted. The authors themselves had the unquestionable right; and if they chose to do their own characters great harm, no one had a right to complain; but if they desired others to do this, that gave no right. The publishers of Lord Cockburn's works are, though in a much less degree, subject to the same blame upon this question. Others may hold different sentiments; we deem it right to state our own, because all are agreed that the abuse has of late years reached a great height, of publishing men's letters and papers after their decease, and because there is no difference of opinion upon this evil, though all may not be agreed upon the duties of relatives and friends, to which we have adverted.
But we should not have recurred to the work of Lord Cockburn, had it not seemed right to confirm the observations made
in our last number upon the great inaccuracy of its narratives, the most important matter connected with this discussion, inasmuch as the tendency of the book is, if uncontradicted, to pervert the history of the times. The friends of the author are not likely to step forward and expose his mis-statements. His colleagues, his brother judges, much as they may reprobate the publication, cannot from their position give it the contradiction to which some of them at least must be aware that it is exposed. In a few years no persons will remain to whom the truth is known; and the work will go down to after-times as having been before the public at a period when living witnesses could have testified against it and did not; and so the whole will be credited as true, whereas no little portion of it is the record of "good stories," which an amiable man and pleasant companion had the habit of relating for the amusement of the society he lived in.
Since our last number appeared, there have been some strong confirmations of this remark, some pointed exposures of the errors with which the book abounds. Part of these appear to proceed from individuals personally acquainted with the particulars of the transactions in question; but part, we are also bound to admit, come from a more accurate attention to some parts of the work than we had bestowed upon them. Of the latter description is a remark that has been made upon the author's extreme credulity. This is observable in almost all collectors and relators of amusing anecdotes. The dealer in this article very often lets his fancy aid the effect of his narrative, and is easy of belief to others, as he hopes to find them towards himself.
"Hanc veniam1 petimusque damusque vicissim."
But this is a sad quality for an historian, or for him who assumes the place of collector of facts for the historian. A few instances of gross credulity-we might say a single instance-is fatal to his credit. Now no one can read without amazement that passage in which Lord Cockburn actually relates that a subordinate officer of the Edinburgh magistrates,
1 Quidlibet audendi.
their Town Clerk, used to transport rioters or idle apprentices at his discretion, and this in the year 1795. Surely he must have known that there then existed a most watchful and even violent opposition, with some of the most eminent men in the Legal Profession at its head; such men as Clerk, Gillies, Fletcher, Gibson,-men in constant correspondence with the Whig leaders in both Houses, especially with Lord Lauderdale and Mr. Adam. The latter had, indeed, the year before, brought before the House of Commons the whole question of the Scotch Courts' jurisdiction, and had raised a debate in which Mr. Fox, Mr. Sheridan, and others, warmly joined, against the legality of the sentences of transportation pronounced upon persons convicted after trial. Can any man for a moment conceive it possible that the abuse of a Town Clerk, in sentencing to transportation untried persons, could have been practised, not frequently and habitually, but in one single instance, without complete exposure, both at Edinburgh and in Parliament, an exposure fatal to the wrongdoer, almost equally fatal to whatever party in power protected him? It is barely possible, that as in those days, and indeed much later, the practice of impressment existed, some violence may have been done by the press-gang; and the mention of the tender by Lord Cockburn seems to show that he had been imposed upon by a story of this sort, which, with his appetite for accounts of a strange and singular kind, he greedily swallowed.
But a single instance of this kind goes to his credit as a witness, and a witness every one is who undertakes to write contemporary history. He is discredited if he be found exceedingly credulous; he is still more discredited if he be found indulging in fancy. Now we mentioned formerly a remarkable instance of his giving us a fact which must of necessity have been a pure invention, either of his own or of some one who, finding his memory defective, thought fit to palm a fable upon him. The suspense of the two parties at Edinburgh for weeks after Mr. Canning's death, and their relief from all uncertainty by Lord Lansdowne's taking office, is a pure invention. Lord Lansdowne had taken office some weeks before, and as Home Secretary had gone to Windsor,
and announced Mr. Canning's death to the King. It is therefore absolutely impossible that there can be any, the least, foundation for Lord Cockburn's tale of the weeks during which the parties remained anxious,-one hoping, the other fearing,till Lord Lansdowne's acceptance removed all doubt. If this statement had occurred in the deposition of a witness in any Court of Justice, and it had been proved by other testimony to be utterly without foundation,-proved, indeed, by facts which every one believed, and which the party producing the witness admitted to be incontrovertible-there would have been an end at once to the credit of that witness, and no reliance would have been placed on any other part of his testimony.
It cannot be denied that the partisans of those ministers whom Lord Cockburn so unsparingly attacks, and the friends of the judges whose memory he, both by deliberate censure and by the narrative of particulars, holds up sometimes to unmeasured detestation, sometimes to unbridled ridicule, have a good right, which they will very probably use, to cite such passages as impeaching his testimony and overruling his decisions. should seem that their partisans and friends have already taken this course; and certainly some very important additions have been made, probably by them, to the facts and the observations which we offered to impeach the credit of the work. For all the statements that have been thus made, we, of course, cannot vouch; but we have made such inquiries as satisfy us that the greater part of them are well founded, and we have had no reason to question the correctness of the rest.
The very strong party bias under which all the remarks of Lord Cockburn are made, and a great part of his narratives—we before adverted to. It would be, perhaps, going too far to affirm, as we understand they say at Edinburgh, that the only Tory who is not attacked is his uncle, Lord Melville; but assuredly that party is pretty uniformly maltreated; though his own connection with Mr. Percival's Government, which he
1 A remarkable paper appeared in the Times newspaper about the middle of September, evidently drawn up from the information of persons well acquainted with the subject. We have made use of some part of it, after inquiry among Lord Cockburn's contemporaries.
VOL. II. NO. III.