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CONCLUSION OF THE LIFE OF LORD CHANCELLOR CHARLES YORKE.
c Hap. The first public duty cast upon Charles Yorke after his pro
CLI- motion, was to make a complimentary speech on the elevation
Char1es of a rival. Murray, the Chief-Justice-elect, was to take
Yorke pre- leave of the Society of Lincoln's Inn previous to going
sides at the through the preliminary form of being made a Serjeant at
ceremony t' r J o ^
of Lord Law, that he might thereby be qualified to become a Judge. ukmgW Mr- Solicitor, being then the Treasurer or head of the Inn, of Lincoln's according to ancient usage, presented the departing member about'toDe w>tn a purse of gold as a retaining fee, and addressed him in made Chief a flowing oration, extolling his eloquence, his learning, and the King's hi8 qualifications for the high judicial office which he was Bench. about to fill. The very words of the answer are preserved, from which we may judge of the talent and the courtesy exhibited on both sides: "I am too sensible, Sir, of my being undeserving of the praises which you have so elegantly bestowed upon me, to suffer commendations so delicate as yours to insinuate themselves into my mind; but I have pleasure in that kind partiality which is the occasion of them. To deserve such praises is a worthy object of ambition; and from such a tongue, flattery itself is pleasing. If I have had in any measure success in my profession, it is owing to the great man who has presided in our highest Court of judicature the whole time I attended the bar. It was impossible daily to come into his presence without catching some beams from his light. The disciples of Socrates, whom I will Duke the liberty to call the great lawyer of antiquity, since the first principles of law are derived from his philosophy, owe their reputation to their having been the reporters of the sayings of their master. If we can arrogate nothing to ourselves, vie may boast the school we were brought up in; the scholar may glory in his master, and we may challenge past ages to show us his equal. My Lord Bacon had the same extent of thought, CHAP, and the same strength of language and expression, but his
life had a stain. My Lord Clarendon had the same abilities, and the same zeal for the constitution of his country; but the civil war prevented his laying deep the foundations of law, and the avocations of politics interrupted the business of the Chancellor. My Lord Somers came the nearest to his character; but his time was short, and envy and faction sullied the lustre of his glory. It is the peculiar felicity of the great man I am speaking of, to have presided near twenty years, and to have shone with a splendour that has risen superior to faction, and that has subdued envy. I did not intend to have said so much upon this occasion; but with all that hear me, what I say must carry the weight of testimony rather than appear the voice of panegyric. For you, Sir, you have given great pledges to your country, and large are the expectations of the public concerning you. I dare to say you will answer them."
For us Lincoln's Inn men, this was, indeed, a proud day. Proud day The greatest of common law Judges, on his own inau- j£Jn^,i" guration, spoke so eloquently of the greatest of Equity Judges now in retirement, after a judicial career of unequalled length and brilliancy,—and held out seemingly well-founded anticipations that the son who was addressed, would rival his father's glory. All three were members of Lincoln's Inn, and the scene was acted in Lincoln's Inn Hall, amidst a crowd of barristers and students, many of whom, if fortune had been propitious to a display of their talents, would have been hardly less distinguished.
In the following year, the Solicitor General expected Charles further promotion, but was doomed to a severe disappoint- pointed ment. After some months of anarchy which followed the by Pratt resignation of the Duke of Newcastle and Lord Hardwicke, Attorney 6 during which the Great Seal was in commission, and there Genermlwas a perpetual shifting of the principal offices of state, the Court was obliged to surrender at discretion to Mr. Pitt, who then formed his famous administration. He bore no July, 1757. good will to the House of Yorke, and although he would not dismiss Charles from the office held by him, he insisted
CCLlT on malc'nS n's o^ school-fellow, Pratt, Attorney General.
This was most highly distasteful to Mr. Solicitor; but after
consulting his father and his friends, he consented to swallow the bitter pill presented to him. Pratt was his senior at the bar, and had now risen into high reputation, so that it was no degradation to serve under him. They acted with apparent cordiality, though it was said that Yorkc never forgot the affront, and was actuated by the recollection of it in his intrigue against Lord Camden, when he was himself to have become Chancellor under Charles Townshend, and in the negotiation which closed his own career, when, in an evil hour, he actually received the Great Seal, that Lord Camden might be cashiered. •u'home"163 Opposition being now annihilated, the Attorney and Solitiuring Mr. citor General had very light work in the House of Commons, ministra- and their official duty chiefly consisted in advising the lion. government (which they did most admirably) upon numerous
questions of international law, arising during the prosecution of the war.
June 12. The first great occasion when they appeared together in Charles public, was on the trial of Dr. Hensey, at the King's Bench Yorke ^ bgj*, for high treason, in carrying on a correspondence with the trial of the French, and inviting them to invade the realm. It was Dr. Hen- j-ne parf. 0f ^\ie Solicitor General to sum up the evidence for the Crown, but he declined to do so, reserving himself for the general reply on the whole case,—a course which Lord Mansfield and the whole Court held he was entitled to pursue. His reply was distinguished by great moderation and mildness of tone, as well as perspicuity and force of reasoning. The prisoner was convicted, — but on account of attenuating circumstances, he was afterwards pardoned.* His cele- The only other state prosecution in which Pratt and in Lord! Charles Yorke were jointly engaged, was that of Lord Ferrers'* Ferrers, before the House of Peers, for the murder of his steward, of which I have given an account in the Life of Lord Northington, who then presided as Lord High Steward, f The Solicitor General's reply on this occasion is one of the finest forensic displays in our language, containing,
along with touching eloquence, fine philosophical reasoning CHAP, on mental disease and moral responsibility. "In some sense," said he, "every violation of duty proceeds from insanity. All cruelty, all brutality, all revenge, all injustice, is insanity. There were philosophers in ancient times, who held this opinion as a strict maxim of their sect; and, my I,ords, the opinion is right in philosophy, but dangerous in judicature. It may have a useful and a noble influence to regulate the conduct of men; — to control their impotent passions; — to teach them that virtue is the perfection of reason, as reason itself is the perfection of human nature; — but not to extenuate crimes, nor to excuse those punishments which the law adjudges to be their due."
Every Peer present said, "Guilty, upon my honour;" and when the unhappy culprit had expiated his offence at Tyburn, homage was done throughout the world to the pure and enlightened administration of criminal justice in England.
About this time Charles Yorke sustained a blow which Hisaffliclong rendered tasteless all the applause with which his efforts d°a^"fhfs were crowned. He lost the chosen partner of his fate whose first wifeparticipation of his good fortune gave it all its value. When a little recovered, he described his anguish, and the sacred source of his consolation, in a letter to his friend Warburton, which has unfortunately perished, for it might have been equal to the letter written on a similar sad occasion by Sir James Mackintosh toDr.Parr,—one of the most beautiful of mortal compositions. * We may judge of its tone from the language of Warburton in transmitting it to Hurd: —
* Perhaps it contained sentiments such as these: "My only consolation is in that Being under whose severe but paternal chastisement I am bent down to the ground. The philosophy which I have learned only teaches me that virtue and friendship are the greatest of human blessings, and that their loss is irreparable. It aggravates my calamity, instead of consoling me under it. My wounded heart seeks another consolation Governed by these fceling3, which have in every age and region of the world actuated the human mind, I seek relief and I find it in the soothing hope and consolatory opinion that a Benevolent Wisdom inflicts the chastisement as well as bestows the enjoyments of human life; that superintending goodness will one day enlighten the darkness which surrounds our nature and hangs over our prospects; that this dreary and wretched life is not the whole of man; that an animal so sagacious and provident, and capable of such proficiency in science and virtue, is not like the beasts that perish; that there is a dwelling-place prepared for the spirits of the just, and that the ways of God will yet be vindicated to man."— Life of Mackintosh, i. 97.
Sept . 1761. On the accession of Geo. III. C. Yorke adheres to Lord Bute.
Jan. 25. 1762.
He is made
Oct. 1761. His con* duct as a law officer after Mr. Pitt's resignation.
letter from Warburton to Mr. Pitt respecting C. Yorke.
"This morning I received the enclosed. It will give you a true idea of Yorke's inestimable loss, and his excellent frame of mind. He has read, you will see, your Dialogues. And was he accustomed to speak what he does not think (which he is not), at this juncture he would tell his mind, when labouring with grief.
'Nam vera; voces tum demum pectore ab imo
Upon the accession of George III. Charles Yorke was continued in his office of Solicitor General, and from feeling rather a dislike to Mr. Pitt he seems early to have attached himself to Lord Bute. He saw without regret the resignation of the "Great Commonerf," and when Pratt was "shelved," as was supposed in the Court of Common Pleas, the Attorney Generalship was joyfully conferred upon the Solicitor, who was expected unscrupulously to go all lengths against Wilkes. I think he has been too severely blamed for his conduct at this period. He did file the criminal informations for "No. 45. of the North Briton," and for the "Essay on Woman;" but few will deny that the one publication was seditious, or that the other was obscene. He was not consulted by Lord Halifax about issuing "general warrants," and he might have been pardoned for saying that they were prima facie legal, as they had been issued by all Secretaries of State since the Revolution, however inconsistent they might be with the principles of the constitution. Although he ought to have opposed the folly of burning libels by the common hangman, which led to such serious riots and mischief, it should be recollected that this was a practice then approved by grave statesmen. He was fully justified in pro
* VVarb. Corr. 292.
f Warburton, in a letter to Mr. Pitt, written soon after, tries to remove from his mind the impression made by some of Yorke's manifestations of satisfaction on this occasion:
"Prior Park, Oct. 17. 1761. . . . . "The Solicitor General has just now left this place after a visit to me of a few days. I should be unjust to him on this occasion to omit saying that to me he ever appeared to hold you in the highest honour, and your measures (as soon as ever the effects appeared) in the highest esteem. I ought in justice to add further, that he deceived me greatly if, at that very time when your just resentments were about breaking out against the Duke of Newcastle, he did not use his hest endeavours, both with the Duke and his father, to repair their treatment, and to procure you satisfaction. But he had not then that influence with thom which he has had since."— Chat. Corretp. ii. 161.