Page images

as counsel for M. Peltier, who had been proceeded against for a libel on the first consul of France, Napoleon Bonaparte. On this occasion, the counsel opposed to him were the late Mr. Perceval, the attorney-general, and Mr. Abbott, the present Lord Tenterden; against whom he advocated the cause of his client with such skill and eloquence, that he was, from that time, looked upon as an orator of the highest rank. His fee, upon this occasion, was only five guineas; but, although his speech was pronounced, by Lord Ellenborough, to have been "the most eloquent oration he had ever heard in Westminster Hall,” it was thought by many to be injudicious as a defence; and Peltier himself said, that the fellow, as he called Mackintosh, had sacrificed him to show off in praise of Napoleon. The conclusion of his speech is worth transcribing, not only as a specimen of his powers at the time of its delivery, but for the spirit and independence by which it is pervaded. "In the court where we are now met,” said Mr. Mackintosh, "Cromwell twice sent a satirist on his tyranny to be convicted and punished as a libeller ; 'and in this court, almost in sight of the scaffold streaming with the blood of his sovereign, within hearing of the clash of his bayonets which drove out parliaments with contumely, two successive juries rescued the intrepid satirest from his fangs, and sent out, with defeat and disgrace, the usurper's attorney-general from what he had the insolence to call his court. Even then, gentlemen, when all law and liberty were trampled under the feet of a military banditti-when those great crimes were perpetrated on a high plan, and with a high hand against those who were the objects of public veneration, which more than any thing else upon earth, overwhelm the minds of men, break their spirits, and confound the moral sentiments, obliterate the distinctions between right and wrong in the understanding, and teach the multitude to feel no longer any reverence for that justice which they thus see

triumphantly dragged at the chariot wheels of a tyrant --even then, when this unhappy country, triumphant indeed abroad, but enslaved at home, had no prospect but that of a long succession of tyrants, wading through slaughter to a throne-even then, I say, when all seemed lost, the unconquerable spirit of English liberty survived in the hearts of English jurors. That spirit is, I trust in God, not extinct; and if any modern tyrant were, in the drunkenness of his insolence, to hope to awe an English jury, I trust and believe that they would tell him, “Our ancestors braved the bayonets of Cromwell; we bid defiance to yours. Contempsi Catilinæ gladios, non pertimescam tuos.

The manner in which he had distinguished himself, nevertheless, recommended him to the notice of government, and he soon after received the honour of knighthood, and was appointed recorder of Bombay. In this character he had frequent opportunities for the display of his abilities, and performed his functions to the satisfaction both of the Europeans and the natives; and such was his independence on the seat of judgment, that he once declared the court was bound to decide by the law of nations, and not by any direction from the king or his ministers. His first charge to the Bombay grand jury, was delivered on the 17th of July, 1804, when he said that it had been one of his chief employments to collect every information about the character and morality of the people that were to be intrusted to his care, and about the degree and kinds of vice that were prevalent in their community. He compared himself in this preliminary occupation, to a physician appointed to an hospital, who would first examine the books of the establishment in order to make himself acquainted with the complaints that most frequently call for cure.

Sir James found the principal sin of the Indians to be perjury; which, considering it as indicative of the absence of all the common restraints that withhold men from crimes, he punished severely, and took the most strenuous measures to counteract. For this crime he sentenced a woman to five years' imprisonment; during which period she had to stand once a year in the pillory, in front of the court-house, with labels on her breast and back, explanatory of the offence of which she had been guilty, and of the resolution of the court to adopt the most vigorous means for the extirpation of this crime. He was, however, no advocate for severe treatment towards criminals; and fully acted up to his saying, that he had more confidence in the certainty than in the severity of punishment. One of his most eloquent addresses was on the trial of two Dutchmen for having designed the commission of murder, who, being convicted, and expecting to be called up to receive sentence of death, had got knives, with the resolution of sacrificing their sentencer. The discovery of their plan made no alteration in the conduct of Sir James, who ordered them to be imprisoned for twelve months, after having thus addressed them: “I was employed, prisoners, in considering the mildest judgment which public duty would allow me to pronounce on you, when I learned, from undoubted authority, that your thoughts towards me were not of the same nature. I was credibly or, rather, certainly informed, that you had admitted into your minds the desperate pro-' ject of destroying your own lives at the bar where you stand, and of signalizing your suicide by the previous destruction of at least one of the judges. If that murderous project had been executed, I should have been the first British magistrate who ever stained with his blood the bench on which he sat to administer justice: but I could never have died better than in the discharge of my duty. When I accepted the office of a minister of justice, I knew that I ought to despise unpopularity and slander, and even death itself. Thank God, I do despise them; and I solemnly assure you, that I feel more compassion for the gloomy and desperate state of mind which could

harbour such projects, than resentment for that part of them which was directed against myselt. I should consider myself as indelibly disgraced, if a thought of your projects against me were to influence my judgmeat."

Previously to leaving Bornbay, Sir James founded a literary society; and his communications to the Asiatic Register, during his stay there, abound with valuable information, his computations, it is said, being probably made with greater accuracy than those of any other writer; and to his researches, it is added, the learned Dr. Buchanan was materially indebted in the compilation of his voluminous works on India.

After seven years' residence in India, Sir James was obliged, by ill health, to visit England; where he might have had high employment, it is said, had not his principles prevented a union with Mr. Perceval. In July, 1813, he was returned to parliament for the county of Nairn, in Scotland; but his commencement, as a speaker in the commons, was by no means promising. His maiden oration was made in defence of the petty republics and states in the Adriatic and Mediterranean; and, during the whole of the session, he conducted himself with a littleness of view and obstinacy of spirit, which was neither approved of by his friends, nor anticipated by his foes. He, however, completely redeemed his reputation in the following session, by delivering one of the most eloquent speeches ever heard in parliament, on the subject of the escape of Bonaparte from Elba. But his greatest parliamentary efforts were directed to the amendment of the criminal code ; which he is said to have taken up as a solemn bequest from the originator of that humane measure, Sir Samuel Romilly. His first motion on the subject related to the capital punishment of felony, and was introduced to the no tice of parliament, it is stated, by a speech of the very first character, both in style and argument. It was supported by Messrs. Wilberforce, Buxton, &c.; and such was the effect it produced, that he had the satisfaction of triumphing over ministerial influence and opposition, by a majority of nineteen, for the appointment of a committee.

In 1822, he had the honour of being elected lord rector of the University of Glasgow, in preference to Sir Walter Scott; and to which high office he was re-elected in 1823. In March, 1822, he supported Lord Normanby's motion for the reduction of one of the post-masters-general. In June of the same year, he made a brilliant speech on the subject of the alien bill. On the 17th of June, 1823, he was elected a vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature ; and, in July, 1826, became one of the council for conducting the affairs of the London University. In the same year, he became member of parliament for Knaresborough, which he continued to represent in succeeding parliaments; in all of which, he advocated the most liberal principles, and made the abolition of the slave trade the subject of an annual motion. In April, 1830, he supported a proposition in the house of commons for the emancipation of the Jews; and in June of the same year, opposed the clause of Mr. Peel's bill, which subjected a person guilty of the forgery of Exchequer bills and promissory notes to capital punishment. Some years after his return from India, Sir James undertook an extensive historical work on the affairs of England subsequent to the revolution; but the progress of it was much retarded by his parliamentary duties, and also by the declining state of his health. In 1830, he published in Lardner's Cyclopedia, one volume of a History of England, which Mr. Campbell considers an expansion of the prefatory matter intended for the greater work, and eulogizes the author by saying that he has wonderfully solved the difficulty of making history at once amusing to the fancy, elevating to the understanding, and interesting to the heart.

Sir James Mackintosh has sustained, with distin

« PreviousContinue »