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young at the bar, the run of the house of the Chief Justice CHAP of England, with the chance of sinecure appointments, would •
have been very agreeable, but would probably have left him in the obscure herd to which the sons of Chancellors and Chief Justices have usually belonged. His mother intimated to him that the small amount of his patrimony would do little more than, with good management, defray the expence of his education, and that by his own exertions he must make his way in the world.
He was soon after sent to Eton, and on account of the At Etonreduced circumstances of his family, he was placed upon the foundation. But in those days the collegers and oppidans were on the most friendly footing, and here he formed a friendship which lasted through life, and not only led to his advancement, but was of essential benefit to the state — with William Pitt,—then flogged for breaking bounds — afterwards the " Great Commoner" and Earl Of Chatham. He likewise had for his playmates Lyttleton and Horace Walpole. At that time, as now, Eton, from its many temptations and gentle discipline, was very ill adapted to a boy idly inclined; yet it was the best school of manly manners, and in the studious the genius of the place fanned the flame of emulation, and inspired a lasting love of classic lore. Fortunately, young Pratt was eminent in the latter category, and here not only was his taste refined, but from his lessons in Livy, and a stealthy perusal of Claudian, he imbibed that abhorrence of arbitrary power which animated him through life.
At the election in July, 1731, he got " King's," and in Oct. nsi. the following term he went to reside at Cambridge. Being bridgeTM" from his earliest years destined by his father to the bar, he had previously been entered of the Society of the Inner Temple. * While at the university he did not much meddle with the mathematical pursuits of the place, or even very diligently attend classical lectures, being, from the preposterous privilege of his college, entitled to a degree without examination; but while most of his Etonian friends sank into indolence, he not only diligently read the best Greek and
• His admission is dated 5th June, 1728. He is designated " Carolus Pratt, generosus, Alius quintus honorabilissimi Joannis Pratt, Eq ," &c.
Latin authors in his own way, but he began that course of juridical and constitutional study which afterwards made his name so illustrious. It is said that while he was an undergraduate several controversies arose in the college respecting the election of officers, and the enjoyment of exclusive privileges, and that he always took the popular side, opposing himself to the encroachments of the master with as much warmth and perseverance as he afterwards displayed on a wider arena. *
In 1735, he proceeded B. A. as a matter of course, and having finished his academical curriculum, took chambers, and began to keep his terms in the Inner Temple. I have not been able to learn any thing of his habits during this period of his life, but from what followed it is quite clear that he had been much more solicitous to qualify himself for business, than to form any connexions for obtaining it; and I suspect that, contented with hard reading and a diligent attendance to take notes in Westminster Hall, he did not even condescend to become a pupil in an attorney's office, which had become a common practice since "moots" and "readings" had fallen into disuse, and "special pleaders" had not yet come up. He was called to the bar in Trinity Term,1738.
But very differently did young Pratt fare from the mau whose rapid career had recently been crowned by his elevation to the woolsack. Yorke, the son of an attorney, himself an attorney's clerk, and intimate with many attorneys and attorneys' clerks, overflowed with briefs from the day he put on his robe, was in full business his first circuit, and was made Solicitor General when he had been only four years at the bar. Pratt, the son of the Lord Chief Justice of England, bred at Eton and Cambridge, the associate of scholars and gentlemen, though equally well qualified for his profession, was for many years without a client. He attended daily in the Court of King's Bench, but it was only to make a silent bow when called upon "to move ;"■—he sat patiently in chambers, but no knock came to the door, except that of a dun,
* This reminds me of a story I have heard of a very distinguished contemporary, who is said, when he was entitled to fags at Eton, to have summoned them before him and foimally lo have tmantipattd them.
or of a companion as briefless and more volatile. He chose CHAP.
the Western Circuit, which his father used to "ride," and
where it might have been expected that his name might have been an introduction to him,—but spring and summer, year after year, did he journey from Hampshire to Cornwall, without receiving fees to pay the tolls demanded of him at the turnpike gates, which were then beginning to be erected. During the summer circuit, in the year 1741, his nag died, and from bad luck, or from the state of his finances, he was only able to replace him by a very sorry jade. With difficulty did he get back to London—whence he thus wrote to a friend: — " Alas! my horse is lamer than ever, — no sooner cured Hi*de"
J 7 - spair.
of one shoulder than the other began to halt. My losses in horse flesh ruin me, and keep me so poor that I have scarce money enough to bear me in a summer's ramble; yet ramble I must if I starve to pay for it."
To cheer him up, his school and college friend, Sneyd Poetical Davies, addressed to him a poetical epistle, in which the poet comr^tto dwells upon the worthlessness of the objects of human ambi- liimtion, and points out to him the course of the bright lumi- *•"■ ,745, naries then irradiating Westminster Hall:
'* Who knows how far a rattle may outweigh
He persevered for eight or nine years; but, not inviting He resolves attorneys to dine with him, and never dancing with their (^/church
* Dodsley's Collection, vol. vi.
His first speech.
daughters, his practice did not improve, and his " impecuniosity" was aggravated. At last he was so much dispirited that he resolved to quit the bar,—to return to the seclusion of his college,—to qualify himself for orders,—and to live upon his fellowship as he might,—till, in the course of time, he should be entitled to a college living,—where he might end his days in peace and obscurity. This plan he certainly would have carried into execution, if he had not thought that it was fit he should announce it to the leader of his circuit, who had always been kind to him. This was Henley, afterwards Lord Northington, who, first in his usual jesting manner, and afterwards with seriousness and feeling, tried to drive away the despair which had overwhelmed his friend, and prevailed so far as to obtain a promise that Pratt would try one circuit
At the first assize town on the next circuit, it so happened that Pratt was Henley's junior (by contrivance it was suspected) in a very important cause, and that just as it was about to be called on the leader was suddenly seized with an attack of gout, which (as he said) rendered it necessary for him to leave the Court and retire to his lodgings. The lead was thus suddenly cast upon Pratt, who opened the plaintiff's case with great clearness and precision, made a most animated and eloquent reply, obtained the verdict, was complimented by the Judge, was applauded by the audience, and received His sudden several retainers before he left the hall. His fame travelled before him to the next assize town, where he had several briefs,—and from that time he became a favourite all round the Circuit. f Although Henley continued senior of the " Western"
* I find in the European Magazine for July, 1794, a supposed account of the dialogue between them, which I consider entirely fictitious. Here is a specimen of it. "Henley heard him throughout with a seeming and anxious composure, when, bursting out into a horse-laugh, he exclaimed, in his strong manner,
'What I turn parson at last I No, by G , Charles, you shan't be a P'
neither! You shall do better for yourself, and that quickly too. Let me hear no more of this canting business of turning parson: you have abilities that run
before us all, but you must endeavour to scour off a little of that d d
modesty and diffidence you have about you, to give them fair play.'" The writer knew so little of Pratt's real history as to represent that he was afterwards introduced for the first time by Henley to Pitt.
f My friend Mr. Dampier, J udge of the Stannary Court, writes to me — " Sir James Mansfield, who was of K. C, and ab' 19 years junr to Ld C, used to tell me that he remembered L" C. on the West. Circuit, and that his rise was for several years longer, till he was made Attorney General, CHAP. Piatt's success was facilitated by an opening from the removal CXLiIof two inferior men, who had long engrossed a great share of the business. Employment in Westminster Hall soon followed; for in new trials and other business connected with the Circuit, he displayed such great ability and such a thorough knowledge of his profession, that in cases of weight he was soon eagerly sought after to hold "second briefs," although he never seems to have had a great share of routine business,— which, with less eclat, is attended with more profit.*
The first case in which he attracted the general notice of the July o. public, was in the memorable prosecution of a printer by Sir j^f" counDudley Ryder as Attorney General, under the orders of the scl for the House of Commons, in consequence of some remarks on their ;„ „ prose. commitment of the Honourable Alexander Murray for refus- JjutiTMbor" ing to kneel at their bar. Lord Chief Justice Lee, the pre- the House siding Judge, intimated his opinion that the jury were only to ^,"m" consider whether the defendant published the alleged libel (which was clearly proved to have been sold by him in his shop at the Homer's Head in Fleet Street), and whether " the S—r" meant "the Right Honourable Arthur Onslow, the Speaker of the House of Commons," and "the H—h B—ff" meant " Peter Leigh, gentleman, then High Bailiff of the city of Westminster?" Pratt was junior counsel for the Hisasserdefendant, and following Ford, a distinguished lawyer in his 'I0" of.the
i ,. , iii -i right of the
day, whom he greatly eclipsed, he showed that ex ammo he jury to conentertained the opinion respecting the rights of juries which *J^^ of he subsequently so strongly maintained against Lord Mans- the publifield, and for which, after a lapse of forty years, he triumph- tn antly struggled against Lord Thurlow in the last speech he be a libel, ever delivered in parliament. He told the jury that they were bound to look to the nature and tendency of the supposed libel, and to acquit the defendant, unless they believed that he intended by it to sow sedition, and to subvert the
very sudden and rapid, after a long time of no practice; but once having led a cause in the west, he beenme known, and was immediately in full business, on tbe Circuit."
* His name does not occur in the Reports nearly so frequently as those of some others who are long since forgotten.