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A.D. 1723.






A.D. 1723.

On the 31st of January, 1723, Sir Robert Raymond being promoted to be Chief Justice of the King's Bench, Sir Philip Yorke, with general applause, succeeded him as Attorney-General. This situation he held above thirteen years, exhibiting a model of perfection to future law officers of the Crown. He was punctual and conscientious in the discharge of his public duty, never neglecting it that he might undertake private causes, although fees were supposed to be particularly sweet to him, and, having felt the ills of penury, he was, from the commencement to the close of his professional career, eager to accumulate wealth. Considering this propensity, he had likewise great merit in resisting the temptation to which others have yielded of accepting briefs in private causes, when he could not be present at the hearing of them, or could not do fair justice to the client who hoped to have the benefit of his assistance. I


likewise mention that, although he was afterwards supposed to have become stiff and formal in his manners, while he remained at the bar he was affable and unassuming, courteous to his brethren of longer standing, making himself popular with the juniors, and trying to soften the envy excited by his elevation. In parliament he never displayed any impatience to gain distinction, but he was regular in his attendance, and he was always ready to render fair assistance to the government, and to give his opinion on any legal or constitutional question for the guidance of the House. Without being a "prerogative lawyer,” he stood up for the just powers of the Crown; and, without being a “patriot,” he was a steady defender of the rights and privileges of the people.

As public prosecutor in Revenue cases in the Exchequer, he is universally lauded. Though advocate for the Crown, he spoke,” says one contemporary, " with the veracity of a witness, and the impartiality of a judge.” When defending Walpole’s Excise scheme against the misrepresentations of its

opponents, he not ungracefully appealed to his own practice in prosecuting those who attempted to defraud the revenue and to injure the fair dealer; pronouncing a eulogy upon himself to which, we are told, “the whole House assented with universal applause."

He was not so fortunate in his prosecutions for libel. In his time sprang up the controversy respecting the rights of juries, which was not settled till the close of the eighteenth century. He contended for the doctrine, that the jury were only to decide upon the sufficiency of the evidence of publication, and upon innuendoes; i.e., whether particular words or abbreviations in the alleged libel had the meaning imputed to them by the indictment or information, as, whether

or the K -g" meant “our Sovereign Lord the King;” but that the lawfulness or criminality of the writing prosecuted was pure matter of law for the opinion of the Court. The Judges coincided with him in their directions, but juries were sometimes rebellious. The obnoxious journal of that day was the “ Craftsman,” conducted by Bolingbroke, Pulteney, and the principal leaders of the opposition to Sir Robert Walpole. Sir Philip Yorke succeeded in obtaining a conviction in the case of the famous Hague letter, written by Bolingbroke; 5 but he was foiled in his prosecution of a subsequent violent attack upon the Government, supposed to be from the pen of Chesterfield, for though the Chief Justice laid down the same law, and there could be no doubt about publication or innuendoes, the jury, very much approving of the sentiments of the supposed libel, and thinking them not only innocent but laudable, found a general verdict of not guilty. It was then that Pulteney composed his famous ballad, with the oft-quoted stanza,

“For Sir Philip well knows,
That his innuendoes
Will serve bim no longer

In verse or in prose;
For twelve honest men have decided the cause,
Who are judges alike of the facts and the laws." h

8 17 St. Tr. 625 : and see a very amusing lapse of memory, said Pulteney had admitted account of this trial by Lord Mansfield, 21 St. that “ libel or no libel?” was a question only Tr. 1037. “There was a great concourse of for the Court, by saying in his balladpeople: it was a matter of great expectation, “For twelve honest men have decided the and many persons of high rank were present cause, to countenance the defendant."

Who are judges of fact, though not h The last two lines were misrepresented judges of laws." in the Dean of St. Asaph's case by Lord -21 St. Tr. 1037. Mansfield; who, to suit his purpose, or from

A.D. 1723.



But, considering how the law of libel had been laid down by Lord Holt and other Judges deemed constitutional, I believe that Sir Philip is to be deemed forbearing in instituting prosecutions against the press, and mild in conducting them.

While Attorney-General, he was not entirely absorbed in the routine of official and professional business. He contrived to have leisure, not only to attend to the literature of the day, but, when occasion required, to investigate thoroughly, by a reference to rare books and ancient records, questions respecting our judicial history. In consequence of some clashing of jurisdiction between Lord King as Chancellor, and Sir Joseph Jekyll as Master of the Rolls, he wrote and published "A Discourse of the Judicial Authority belonging to the Office of Master of the Rolls,” which is full of recondite learning, and on which the declaratory act was passed, placing the jurisdiction of “ His Honour” ön its present footing."

His first appearance as Attorney-General in the House of Commons was in conducting the bill of pains and penalties against Bishop Atterbury, by which that learned and factious prelate was banished for life, and it was made high treason to correspond with him. There was no difficulty in producing a moral persuasion of the existence of the plot to bring in the Pretender on which it was founded, but no ingenuity could justify the departure from the rules of evidence established for the safety of the subject, or an attempt to punish, by a ministerial majority, where there must have been an acquittal before the regular tribunals of the country. The AttorneyGeneral had to carry through similar bills against Plunket and Kelly, implicated in the conspiracy. In support of the last, he is said to have been particularly energetic, but no fragment of his speech is preserved."

i Lord Chesterfield thus speaks of him as a k 3 Geo. 2, c. 30; 3 Bl. Com. 450. law officer of the Crown: "Though he was m See 3 Parl. Hist. 54—293; 16 St. Tr. Solicitor and Attorney-General, he was by no 323–693. Swift tried to revenge his friend means what is called a prerogative lauyer.. Atterbury by ridiculing this plot in “GulHe loved the constitution, and maintained the liver's Travels," published soon after :-"Anjust prerogative of the Crown; but without other professor showed me a large paper of stretching it to the oppression of the people. instructions for discovering plots and conspi. He was naturally humane, moderate, and racies against the government. He advised decent; and when, by his, employments, he great statesmen to examine into the diet of was obliged to prosecute state criminals, he all suspected persons,' their time of eating, discharged that duty in a very different man upon which side they lay, with what hand,' ner from most of his predecessors, who were &c.; " and then he describes a certain method too justly called the blood-hounds of the “by an examination of the ejecta, of ascertainCrown."

ing wliether the design of the traitor be to VOL. VI.



A.D. 1725.

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In the year 1725, Sir Philip was placed in a very disagree

able predicament by the impeachment of his patron

-originating, as some thought, in the Chancellor's violent predilection for Sir Philip himself. He has been accused of heartlessness and ingratitude on this occasion, and of standing a silent and unconcerned spectator of the distress of the man to whom he owed all his advancement in life.” But I think the charge is unjust, or greatly exaggerated. If, by resigning his office, he could have become the strenuous defender of his patron, with the remotest chance of saving him, it would have been his duty to have made the attempt. But the current ran so strong against the denounced “trafficker in judicial offices, and robber of widows and orphans, that to stem it was impossible,—and useless self-immolation could not be demanded from any one.

The Commons were almost unanimous for the impeachment, although some thought there ought to have been a previous inquiry by a committee. When there appeared an opening for embarrassing the proceeding by a motion to recommit the articles of impeachment, Sir Philip Yorke strenuously, though ineffectually, supported it against Serjeant Pengelly, and Sir Clement Wearg, the Solicitor-General.

On the appointment of managers to conduct the prosecution at the bar of the House of Lords, the Attorney-General ought to have been of the number, but he begged to be excused on account of the private friendship subsisting between him and the late Lord Chancellor; and we are told that he had great

difficulty in obtaining his request.” It is not easy to specify any other step he could have taken to show his sympathy: Yet I confess I should have been gratified to hear that he had tried to turn the tide of public opinion, by a pamphlet " On the Sale of the Office of Master in Chancery, proving that it has been at all times transferred for a valuable consideration,” or that he had made one gallant speech in his place in the House of Commons, for the man who had such claims to public applause, and who had drawn down ill-will upon himself by befriending the friendless. Surely Sir Robert Walpole, who was not without generosity of sentiment as well as good

murder the King, or only to raise an insur came over for interment, the coffin was rection, or to burn the metropolis."— Voyage opened at the Custom House, “lest it should to Laputa, ch. vi. Kelly having been con be made the medium of a treasonable corre. fined thirteen years in the Tower, was allowed spondence, contrary to the act of parliament.” to make his escape. Atterbury, it is well n Cooksey, 73. knowli, died in exile; and when his body 08 St, Tr. 414-480.


A.D. 1726.

nature (although he was anxious to rescue his government from the imputation of screening high delinquency), would not have discarded his Attorney-General for one solitary indiscretion. At all events, it would have much consoled me to know that Sir Philip visited Lord Macclesfield in the Tower, was in the habit of cheering his retreat at Derby, and showed a grateful solicitude to vindicate his memory. But I am afraid that he left the condemned Chancellor to his fate, like others whom "his former bounty fed,”-eager only for his own aggrandisement.

I must now pursue the prosperous career of the wary Sir Philip. Having, upon the introduction of Lord Macclesfield, made the acquaintance and gained the good graces of the Duke of Newcastle, on the fall of his first patron he devoted himself to that “place-loving nobleman,” who, hardly gifted with common understanding, and not possessing the knowledge of geography and history now acquired at a parish school,—from the rotten borough system then in prime vigour, was in high office as a minister longer than Burleigh, and had much more power and patronage than that paragon of statesmen. Among other advantages which Yorke derived from this connection, he was always returned to parliament free of expense, although Willes, and other competitors at the bar, were involved in contests which made a serious inroad upon their professional gains, and kept them poor, while he was advancing to be a “millionaire.” Lord Hardwicke's detractors allow that he never forgot these obligations. “The best thing that can be remembered of the Chancellor,” says Horace Walpole, “is his fidelity to his patron; for, let the Duke of Newcastle betray whom he would, the Chancellor always stuck to him in his perfidy, and was only not false to the falsest of mankind.”

On the vacancy occasioned by Lord Macclesfield's conviction, although Yorke had pretensions to the Great Seal, he June 11, was much better pleased to remain Attorney-General 1727. -with the bar as a certain resource—than to accept a precarious office, the loss of which was likely soon to leave him without employment or profit,-considering that George I. was old and infirm, and that an entire change of ministry was anticipated at the accession of the Prince. When that event did take place, he was delighted to find himself, by the skilful management of Walpole, more secure than ever- in the enviable situation of Attorney-General to a powerful govern

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