« PreviousContinue »
sary. Candles too, being so highly taxed, have not a fair competition. However, after making every allowance, the propriety of adopting the new mode of illumination seems to deserve the consideration of the proprietors of large es. tablishments of this nature.
ART. IIl.-Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Ho-
the College of Justice, and one of the Lords Commissioners
THESE memoirs contain not only an account of the life and writings of lord Kames, but a great variety of matter relative to his numerous friends and acquaintance, with a copious store of disquisitions and reflections, by his intel
ligent biographer. Lord Woodhouselee has, therefore, · in these two volumes, furnished us, in some measure, with
a literary history of Scotland, during a large part of the eighteenth century. It will be impossible for us, in the narrow limits within which we are circumscribed, to give an exact analysis of all the diversified matter which is found in these ample volumes. We shall not therefore lose sight of lord Kames in the exuberant assemblage of persons and things with which we find him surrounded, but shall pāý -.. our particular attention to his lordship, without turning much or often aside, to look at his friends and acquaintance. We shall first stale the sources from which lord Woodhouselee has derived his information, relative to the venerable subject of these memoirs.' ?
The author tells us that he was for several years intimately acquainted with lord Kames, that he enjoyed a large share of his friendship and confidence, and had numerous opportunities of forming a true estinate of bis character ; but as lord Woodhouselee was more than fifty years younger than his friend, he could not have known him till the passions of youth had subsided in the calin of age, and his faculties had reached their meridian, if they were not al. ready in the wane. But the defects of lord Woodhou elee's personal acquaintance with lord Kames, in the earlier period. of his life, were, in some degree, supplied by an abundance of materials, with which he was assisted by the kindness
of Mr. Drummond Home, the only son of lord Kames, lay John Ramsay, Esq. of Ochtertire, in the county of Perth, aud by other sources of information.
The illustrious author of the Elements of Criticism, was born at Kames, in the county of Berwick, in the year 1696. His father, who resided on bis estate, and acted as a justice of the peace, had not the prudence to confine his expenditure within his income; and his son, on entering the world, was obliged to trust for his future support, to bis own abilities and exertions. At this period, classical learning was very little cultivated ip Scotland, The turn which the reformation had taken in that country, had not contributed to instil any taste for the elegant literature of Greece or Rome ; and the union, while it excited the commercial spirit, did not proportionally kindle the literary ardour of the people. Young Home received the principal part of his education under a private tutor, at his father's house, and, instead of being sent to the university, he was placed, in 1712, in the office of a writer to the signet, at Edinburgh. Mr. Home had at first determined to apply his industry to the practice of a writer, but he afterwards resolved to qualify himself for an advocate at the Scotch bar,
" It was now,' said lord Woodhouselee, that he began to apply himself, with 'unwearied diligence, to repair the defects of his do. mestic education. He resumed the study of the Latin and Greek languages, to which he added French and Italian. Conscious that of all the liberal occupations, the profession of a barrister is that which requires, to the attainment of eminence, the greatest yariety of knowledge, and the widest range of scientific acquirements, he applied himself to the study of mathematics, natural philoso. phy, logic, ethics, and metaphysics. These pursuits, which he fol. Towed at the same time with the study of the law, afforded, independently of their own value, a most agreeable variety of einployment to his active mind.'
Mr. Home acquired a respectable stock of classical eru.. dition, but he never possessed a large portion of what is called taste; nor had he exercised his mind in the habit of philological discrimination. His intellect was more occupied with maxims than with expressions ; he was more fond of tracing facts to principles, than of investigating the etymologies of words. He exhibited an early propensity to generalize his ideas, and this fitted him in an emi. dent degree, to understand the abstractions of law, and to throw light on the most intricate questions of civil juris. prudence.
In the early part of his life, Mr. Home's fondness for rational disquisition, seems occasionally to have degenerated into the wantonness, or the vanity, of cavil, or of scepticism. He was, perhaps, ambitious of shewing how propositions, which were generally received, or which were. supported by distinguished characters, might be opposed or overturned. Young men are desirous of attracting the notice of their superiors, and of displaying their strength, in a combat with those who already occupy the post of literary preeminence. Thus young Home teased Mr. Bax. ter, the author of 'an inquiry into the nature of the human soul,' and of Matho,' &c. with a number of fanciful objections and speculative subtilties. To the principle of Mr. Baxter, that motion, once communicated to matter, would always continue till a new cause occurred, which caused an alteration, Mr. Home opposed the supposition that 'motion is not one single effect, but a continued suc. cession of effects, each requiring a new cause, or a suca cessive repetition of the cause to produce it.' Mr. Baxter, who at first endeavoured to convince his young friend, was at last so irritated by the repeated assaults of his so. phistry on some of the most certain physical truths, that he was constrained to put an abrupt termination to their correspondence. "I shall return you,' says Mr. Baxter, • all your letters : mine, if not already destroyed, you may . likewise return. We shall burn them, and our philosophical heats together.' In a letter, which Mr: Home wrote about this time, (1729) to Dr. Samuel Clarke, to whom he was i an entire stranger, he impugned several of the arguments which that great man had employed in his' discourse con- . cerning the being and attributes of God.' The reader of discernment; who will peruse this letter with attention, will,', we think, find that it contains ample proof of fippancy and presumption; the eagerness and the self-sufficiency of a juvenile disputant, who delights in shewing his own prow, ess, without paying an adequate homage to the strength and dignity of his adversary. We shall make one or two extracts from this letter, which will sufficiently prove that Mr. Home did not, at this time, at all undervalue his own abilities, nor possess any very extraordinary stock of phi, ļosophical lore, nor of literary modesty."
" I shall begin,? says Mr. Home, adjressing the venerable thevlogue, scholar, and philosopher, Dr. Clarke, “ with the demonstra, țions of your second propositions, neither of which can I prevail -, . upon myself to think accurate; and both for the same reasons, for
you connect two ideas, which, in this proof, are necessarily dis. tinct, viz. self-existence and necessity.'
Hardly any other proof would be requisite, that the metaphysical ideas of the author of the Elements of Criticism were not at this time very accurate nor profound. How indeed could be find fauit with Dr. C. for,connecting self-existence and necessity, when self-existence, which is not a contingent nor predetermined, can be no other than à necessary existence ? Self-existence is existence uncaused, and what is this but necessary existence ? Selfexistence is existence which cannot - but have been, and cannot cease to be ; and what is this but necessary existence?" The idea of necessity,' as Dr. Clarke cogently remarked in a brief but able reply, effectually excludes all possibility of being so much as conceived to be not n-cessary. ..In prop. 7, in your demonstrations of the unity,' says.. Mr. Home, in the letter above-mentioned, you seem not accur utely enough to distinguish hypothetical necessity from the absolute necessity, a priori,' &c.' Though I see no necese. sity for more than one deity, does it from tbence follow that there can be no more? here lies my difficulty, which I am · vexed your arguments have not as yet brought ne over.' • You endeavour to reconcile liberty and pre-science. I conless I never could get over this point, and I have long age drawn up some arguments on this head, &c.' 'to page 123, the proof that God is true, seems not clear enough, &c. &c. These little specimens, wben we consider the youth of Mr. Home, and ihe venerable character to whom he was writing, very clearly show that Mr. H. was wanting neither in assurance por in egotism. ; Mr. Home was called to the bar in January, 1723-4. At this time there were many persons of distinguished ability in the Scottish courts, of whom lord Woodhouselee inter- pose's some biographical details. Mr. Home continued to pursue his studies in a state of comparative obscurity and neglect, till the year 1728, when he published his Re.. markable Decisions of the Court of Session. This work procured him the patronage of the president of the court of Session, and a considerable share of professional repu. tation).
As a barrister, Mr. Home did not endeavour to arrest attention, nor to captivate applause by any graces of orato. rical diction. The style of his speeches was elevated but very litle above that of common conversation. His usual mode of pleading was to begin
by a very short and distinct statement of the facts of the cause, and a plain enunciation of the question of law, thence arising. Having thus joined issue with his adversary, on-what he conceived to be the fair merits of the case, he proceeded to develope the principle on which he apprehended the decision ought to rest, and endeavoured, with all the acuteness of which he was master, to shew its application to the question in discussion. He knew that if the principle were once conceded, and its application de. monstrated, the arguments of his opponent needed no deliberate examination, for they fell of necessity to the ground.'
This mode of pleading, however, as lord W. well remarks, is not adapted to every cause; and though it was favourable to the display of logical precision, and metaphysical acuteness, afforded little room for the effusion of that elo. quence which makes its way to the heart. Mr. Home was neither an eloquent nor a ready speaker, and hence he never excelled in an extemporaneous reply. He possessed inore of the qualifications of an abstract thinker' than a popular speaker ; and hence his excellence, as a speaker, consisted chiefly in the talent which he possessed of elucidating the most abstruse and intricate doctrines of law.
In 1732, Mr. Home published · Essays upon several subjects in law, viz, Jus tertii, beneficium cedendarum actionum, Vinco vincentem, and Prescription. Lord W. gives a succinct account of the train of reasoning which is pursued in these essays. In the 4th essay on the · Doctrine of Prescription,' Mr. Home enters into a very ingenious argument, to prove that prescription is not merely the creature of positive law, but has a foundation in the law of nature. He contends that, when any loss has been sustained, of which the intervening time has extinguished the result, or effaced the consciousness, the property no more belongs to the foriner possessor, than if he, had relinquished the possession. This principle would go to the length of confounding all moral distinctions, and of making the recollection of the individual the criterion of right and wrong. Mr. Home infers that, not merely by conventional law, but
by the law of nature, a long continued possession is a good title for acquiring property. The mode in which Mr. Home defended this position, is very ingenious, but very sophistical, and very subversive of the immutable nature of moral obligation. These essays, however, contributed very much to extend the legal reputation of Mr. Home, and from this period he was employed in most of the ima portant causes which ocurred in the court of session.
In chapter III, the biographer of lord Kames celebrates