« AnteriorContinuar »
The possession of the highest offices in the law has so unfrequently been found united in the same individual with a declared opposition to the encroachments of prerogative, and a zealous assertion of popular privileges, that it is matter of surprise that the biography of lord Camden, in whom this union was most conspicuous, and who was in consequence, during a great part of his political life, the object of unbounded national applause and reverence, instead of being fully written by some of his contemporaries qualified for the task by intimate personal knowledge, should never even have been detached, except in the most meagre and imperfect manner, from the general history of English politics, and the bulk of contemporary memoirs.
The name of lord Camden was mentioned in a former volume' as one in the catalogue of lawyers by descent. His father, sir John Pratt, descended from a family of some antiquity and consideration, which had been settled since
See Life of Lord Hardwicke, Am. Jur. vol. xxv..p. 47.
the reign of Elizabeth at Careswell Priory, near Collumpton, in Devonshire, was called to the bar about the year 1684, and practised with much reputation during the three following reigns, and represented the borough of Midhurst in two parliaments, until, on the accession of George I., he was appointed a judge of the king's bench; and in Easter term 1718, on the elevation of lord Parker to the chancellorship, was raised to the dignity of chief justice of the same court, in which he presided until his death in February 1724. Many a young sessions subaltern, who might otherwise have remained unconscious of the existence and dignities of sir John Pratt, has been made familiar with his name from the well-known doggrel version of a settlement case, preserved by Burrow and transplanted into Burn's Justice, wherein his lordship as Coryphæus, and the puisne judges as the chorus, are made to chaunt forth the judgment of the court, touching the case of the woman, who,
· having a settlement,
Married a man with none."
Sir John had by each of two marriages a family of four sons and four daughters. Charles, the subject of this memoir, the third son by his second wife, (daughter of Hugh Wilson, a Montgomeryshire clergyman and canon of Bangor,) was born about the close of 1713 or the beginning of 1714. Of his boyhood and early youth we can find little recorded, beyond the general statement, that he was already distinguished as a lad of much promise, and reasonably diligent and studious, possessing at the same time a flow of animal spirits, and a cheerful and affectionate temper, which made him a great favorite amongst his companions. He was sent early as a colleger to Eton, and had for his contemporaries there, amongst others, the elder Pitt, Lyttelton, and Horace Walpole; the two former, however, a few years his seniors. It is most probable that he laid there the foun
dation of that friendship with the first of them, which lasted unbroken and undiminished till his death, and which in their mature years was drawn into so close a political as well as personal attachment. That young Pratt did not misemploy his time at school is manifest from the circumstance of his obtaining the election to King's College, Cambridge, where he entered into residence in the October term, 1731. The scholars of King's, as many of our readers are aware, being entitled to their degree without the necessity of appearing in the university schools, or passing the ordeal of a senate-house examination, it was not necessary for him to employ the period of his undergraduateship in the prosecution of the ordinary academical studies, and he was left at liberty to apply himself to others more congenial with his taste, and, as it proved, more subsidiary to his success and reputation in the world. Destined from the first for the legal profession, (for he had been entered of the Inner Temple at the age of fifteen,) it appears, accordingly, that his favorite reading (of a serious kind) was directed, while at college, to the history and constitutional law of England; and he exhibited already that predilection towards the popular principle in the constitution, by which his public life was so uniformly marked. In all the contests in which his college was engaged, whether for the election of its own officers, or the establishment of its exclusive privileges, Pratt was found espousing the popular side, and opposing himself to "unstatutable influence” with as much warmth and tenacity, as he afterwards was wont to display on the wider arena of national dispute. He became as of right, at the end of three years from his election, a fellow of his college, and proceeded in due course to his bachelor's degree in 1735–6, and to his master's in 1739; having in the interval, in Trinity term, 1738, been called to the bar. He practised, or rather waited for practice, some years at the common law bar, and travelled the western circuit, without obtaining that reasonable share of business which his own talents, application, and professional acquirements, aided by the influence derived from his father's name and reputation, and his family connections in the west of England, might have been expected to secure to him, without undergoing that melancholy period of long probation, which many an aspiring youth has fondly anticipated would have been sufficient to clothe him in the honors of silk, if not to open a near prospect of the dignities of ermine-instead of leaving him with the sad adjuncts of a bag as empty, and a pocket emptier, than it took him up. For eight or nine
long years did Pratt travel the same dull and almost hope- less round, until, if tradition speak truth, he was at last
introduced to business by one of those lucky incidents, which have been attributed to more than one lawyer of eminence dead and living. The story bears, that he was at length so dispirited by his continued ill success, as to entertain serious thoughts of relinquishing his profession, returning to the seclusion of his college, and qualifying himself for orders; so that with the proceeds of his fellowship to eke out for the present the scanty portion of a fifth son, (if aught yet remained of it,') and, with the certainty of succession to a college living in the course of a few years, he might be able to assure himself of an honorable though limited independence. With this melancholy prospect, he went to make one final experiment on his circuit, and then, if fortune were still unpropitious, to give up the pursuit. He communicated his determination to his friend Henley, afterwards lord chancellor Northington, who was some years his
* Pratt himself, in a familiar letter of the date of 1741, (the third year only of his probation,) bears witness to his state of impecuniosity : :- Alas, my horse is lamer than ever; no sooner cured of one shoulder than the other began to halt. My losses in horseflesh ruin me, and keep me so poor, that I have scarce money enough to bear me out in a summer's ramble ; yet ramble I must, if I starve to pay for it."
senior, and also went the western circuit. Henley combated his purpose, first with raillery, and then with serious expostulation; but finding both insufficient to beat him out of it, managed to get him engaged as his own junior in a cause of some importance; and being, or contriving more probably to absent himself on the plea of being, taken ill, it fell to Pratt to hold the leading brief; and he acquitted himself so well, and displayed at once so much professional knowledge and ready power of elocution, as to ensure the verdict for his client, and to acquire among the dispensers of business, as well as among his brethren at the bar, the reputation of a sound lawyer and eloquent advocate. The ice was now broken, and we see him henceforward swimming stoutly with the stream. Circuit business first flowed in upon him : his friend Henley, we are told, continued his good offices; we find his name occurring here and there in the reports of the period,' until, in the course of some five or six years, he came, more particularly in cases wherein general principles or constitutional rights were involved, into extensive and profitable employment. In 1752 we find him second counsel in defence of Owen the bookseller, who was the subject of a government prosecution for publishing a pamphlet in vindication of Alexander Murray, the proceedings against whom by the house of commons for sedition attracted for some time so much attention : and on that occasion he strenuously maintained, in his address to the jury, the doctrine which he afterwards asserted with such energy in parliament, of their right to return a general verdict, and to pronounce upon the intention of the accused, as well as upon the fact of publication and the correctness of the innuendos. Some years afterwards, when in his char
1 The first printed case in which we have found his name appearing is a settlement case in Michaelmas term 1750; but the names of counsel were at that time of day given and omitted very irregularly.