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TILL HE BECAME
CONTINUATION OF THE LIFE OF LORD CAMDEN
LORD CAMDEN's appointment to the woolsack gave almost CH AP, universal satisfaction * ; and he had more doubts than any
CXLIV. one else as to his own sufficiency. He deemed it lucky that
July 30. he had the long vacation to refresh his recollection of Equity, and to get up the cases which had recently been decided in the Court of Chancery, while he had been a common law Judge. He held sittings before Michaelmas Term in Lincoln's Inn Lord
Camden Hall, and on the 6th of November, the first day of the term, as an after a grand procession from his house in Lincoln's Inn Equity
Judge. Fields to Westminster Hall, he was there installed in his office with all the usual solemnities. As an Equity Judge Lord Camden fully sustained the His quali.
fications. reputation he had acquired while presiding in the Court of Common Pleas. When he pronounced a decree upon the construction of a will, or the liability of a trustee, he was
• Lord Shelburne, in a letter to Mr. Pitt, dated 10th July, 1766, says, in a * P, S. You must perinit me to add how happy I am in the choice of a Chancellor – and murmurs only come from the Ultra Tories.”
† • 30th July, 1766. Robert Earl of Northington, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, having delivered the Great Seal to the King, at his Palace of St. James's, on Wednesday, the 30th day of July, 1766, his Majesty, the same day, delivered it to Charles Lord Camden, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, with the title of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain ; who was then sworn into the said office before his Majesty in Council. His Lordship sat in Lin. coln's Inn Hall during the Seals before Michaelmas Term; and on Monday, the 6th day of November, being the first day of Michaelmas Term, went in state from his house in Lincoln's Inn Fields to Westminster Hall, accompanied by the Earl of Northington, Lord President of the Council, the Duke of Grafton, First Lord of the Treasury, the Earl of Bristol, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Shelburne, and the Right Honourable Henry Seymour Conway, two of his Majesties principal Secretaries of State, the Lord Viscount Barrington, Secretary at War, Lord Edgecombe, Treasurer of the Household, Sir Charles Saunders, Knight of the Bath, First Lord of the Admiralty, the Master of the Rolls, the Judges, King's Serjeants, King's Counsel, and other persons of quality. The Lords accompanied him to the Court of Chancery, where (before he entered upon business), in their presence, he took the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and the oath of Chancellor of Great Britain, the Master of the Rolls holding the book, and the Deputy Clerk of the Crown reading the said oaths : which, being done, the Attorney General moved that it might be recorded, and it was ordered accordingly. Then the Lords departed, leaving the Lord Chancellor in Court." — Cr. Off. Min., No. 2. p. 14.
CHAP. not received with shouts of applause from hundreds of CXLIV.
thousands of persons assembled round the Court, as when he ordered the liberation of WILKES, or adjudged the illegality of “general warrants ;” but he now conciliated the calm respect and good opinion of all parties by his extensive legal information, by his quickness of perception and soundness of understanding, by the perspicuity with which his opinions were propounded, by the patience and impartiality which he uniformly displayed, and by his dignified politeness which appeared more graceful by contrast with the unrefined manners of his predecessor. Although without the qualification now considered indispensable and all-sufficient for the Equity bench, of having passed many years in the drudgery of drawing bills and answers, his mind was deeply imbued with the general principles of jurisprudence: he had studied systematically the Roman civil law,- he was acquainted with the common law of England in all its branches, the most familiar and the most abstruse, - his time in his earlier years after entering the profession not having been engrossed by “prepropera proxis," -- instead of a hurried attention to a great variety of points, he had acquired the habit of deliberately investigating great questions, -as a Nisi Prius leader he possessed the faculty of sifting evidence and dealing rapidly and skilfully with facts, — he had taken infinite pains to make himself master of Equity doctrines and practice, -and for some years he had been first in business, as well as in rank, at the Chancery bar. In those days the notion had not sprung up that a common lawyer was unfit to be an Equity Judge, and Lord Camden was allowed to discharge his duty most admirably, even by hoary fixtures of the Court, such as AMBLER, who had “practised as a barrister for upwards of forty years, of which thirty were employed in the Court of Chancery, under five Lord Chancellors, three sets of Commissioners, and five Masters of the
But we must appreciate his merits chiefly by the general testimonies in his favour from his contemporaries; for, when Chancellor he was most unfortunate in the want of a “vates
Defective reports of his decisions.
* Preface to Ambler, vi.
sacer.” Not unfrequently his chief reporter, after a brief statement of the arguments of the defendant's counsel, thus deals CXLIV. with a judgment on which the Judge had bestowed great labour, and which was admired for its learning, precision, and lucid arrangement: “ And Lord Camden being of the same opinion, which he delivered at large, the bill was dismissed."* But though these chroniclers only give us his dry conclusions of law in the fewest and most ordinary words, we may form a notion of his style and manner from a “Reminiscence” of BUTLER. “I distinctly remember,” says he, “ Lord Camden's presiding in the Court of Chancery. His Lordship’s judicial eloquence was of the colloquial kind -extremely simple, – diffuse, but not desultory. He introduced legal idioms frequently, and always with a pleasing and great effect. Sometimes, however, he rose to the sublime strains of eloquence; but the sublimity was altogether in the sentiment; the diction retained its simplicity; this increased the effect.” †
I do not think that during the time he held the Great Seal (only three years and a half) he added much to our Equity code. I do not find questions of greater importance settled by him, than that a bequest to “ the most necessitous of my relations” shall go among the next of kin, according to the Statute of Distributions, without any inquiry into their circumstancesf; and that by a bequest “ of all the testator's pictures,” (he having at the making of his will a good collection,) after-purchased pictures shall pass. S
Only one of his decrees was reversed, and the general Equitable opinion has been, that the reversal was wrong. A testator points dehaving devised freehold estates to certain uses, and be- him. queathed a leasehold messuage to trustees to convey to the uses of the freehold, “80 that they should not separate," suffered a recovery of the freehold estates, whereby, as to them, the will was revoked, Lord Camden held, that the bequest of the leasehold was revoked also. This decree was reversed on appeal ; but Lord Eldon said, in Southey v.
• Ambler, 660. Dickens is generally more provokingly deficient.
§ Ib. 640. || Darley v, Darley, Amb. 653.
CHAP. Somerville", that " he should be disposed to agree with the CXLIV.
opinion of Lord Camden rather than the judgment of the House of Lords ;” and, on principle, I conceive it must be assumed (however contrary to the fact), that the testator knew and intended all the consequences of the recovery
which he suffered. Confusion
Lord Camden's plans for legal reform were defeated by the produced by Lord
unhappy turn which politics and parties took (so contrary to Chatham's his seemingly well-founded expectations) almost from the
moment of his elevation to his present office. He had intended, under the auspices of Lord Chatham, again to have brought forward his Habeas Corpus Bill, with some other measures to improve the administration both of criminal and civil justice; but the great luminary to whose light and influence he had trusted was eclipsed, and for a time seemed blotted out of the system, so that darkness was spread over
the political world, and chaos seemed to have come again. Character
Lord Chatham had scarcely called into existence his motley of Lord Chatham's administration — pleasantly depicted by Burke, as “a cabinet last administration.
so curiously inlaid — such a piece of diversified mosaic — such a tesselated pavement without cement — here a bit of black stone, and there a bit of white, which had a chance of coherence only from the controlling genius of its framer - when by fresh and aggravated attacks of his old malady, the gout, he was almost disabled from attending to public business, and soon after, on account of a nervous disorder which is supposed even to have affected his mind, he was long seen only by his wife and his medical attendants. The consequence was, that Lord Camden's situation soon became most embarrassing and distressing ; after a period of utter confusion, the members of the government from whom he most differed got the ascendency, and from the protracted hope of the restoration of his friend, who nominally continued in office, he was cut off from the resource of resigning and going into opposition,
The first difficulty which arose after the formation of the
* 13 Ves. Jun. 492.
† 3 Br. P. C. 365. ; and see Carrington v. Payne, 5 Ves. Jun. 404. ; Lowndes v. Stone, ib. 649.; Ware v. Polhill, 11 Ves. Jun. 280.
new government was from the scarcity, and apprehension of CHAP. famine produced by the failure of the harvest. The price of provisions was rapidly advancing, and the greatest alarm pre- Order in vailed in the public mind. The prime minister was confined Council
prohibiting to his bed at Bath. A proposal being made that the ex- exportation portation of corn should be prevented, the Chancellor recommended that this object should be effected by an order of the King in council. Lord Chatham, who was still able to communicate with his colleagues by letter, concurred in this advice, and the measure was carried into effect. popular in itself, but rendered odious by the manner in which it was defended. I have already mentioned the scrape into which the government was on this occasion precipitated by the indiscretion and intemperance of Lord Northington, now President of the Council.* He ought to have been thrown overboard, and the foundering vessel would have righted. Lord Camden thought that he must be supported, and was so far misled by his zeal to serve a colleague, as to persuade himself (in trying to persuade others) that the act of inter- Dec. 1766. fering with lawful commerce, although against an express statute, was not only justifiable from expedience, so as to entitle the parties concerned in it to be protected by an indemnity, but was in itself strictly legal, and without any indemnity might be defended in a court of justice. — According to the evidence of credible witnesses present, he at last worked himself up to say:
“ The necessity of a measure renders it Lord Camnot only excusable, but legal; and consequently a judge, trine of when the necessity is proved, may, without hesitation, de- necessity clare that act legal which would be clearly illegal where such legal justinecessity did not exist. The Crown is the sole executive fication to power, and is therefore intrusted by the constitution to take of an act of upon itself whatever the safety of the state may require parliament, during the recess of parliament, which is at most but a forty His famous
expression days' tyranny. The power exercised on this occasion was so
forty moderate, that Junius Brutus would not have hesitated to days' ty
ranny." intrust it even to the discretion of a Nero.” |
He now received from Lord Temple the severest chastise
* Ante, p. 216. † Lord Charlemont's Correspondence, p. 22.