Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

to resist a threatened invasion, this gentleman and his partners subscribed the sum of 10,000/. On the 29th of November, 1801, he was created a baronet; and until within the last few years, continued to sit in Parliament; but he has now, we believe, altogether retired from public life, leaving behind him a noble representative in his eldest son, Robert, the subject of our present memoir.

Robert Peel was born at Bury, in Lancashire, on the 6th of Feb. 1788. He completed his education at Christchurch, Oxford, and whilst at that College, distinguished himself so much by his studious and diligent habits, that he came to be nicknamed throughout the University, as “ The immortal Peel.”

Immediately after quitting the University in 1809, he was returned to Parliament for Cashel, and made his maiden speech upon. seconding the address on the opening of the session in 1810. He afterwards, in the same session, defended Ministers upon the question of the Walcheren expedition, and fully justified the expectations which his friends had entertained of his capacity for public speaking.

The effect of these speeches, and of the statesman-like demeanour of the youthful politician, became very early visible, in his appointment as Under Secretary of State to Lord Liverpool in the War and Colonial Department, in the summer of 1810.

In 1812, he proceeded to Ireland as Chief Secretary for that kingdom; and in the General Election in that year, was returned to Parliament for Chippenham. In 1817, the promotion of Sir Vicary Gibbs to the Bench, occasioned a vacancy in the representation of the University of Oxford; when Mr. Peel resigned the office of Secretary of State for Ireland, and was returned as the representative of that learned body, and has continued to represent them up to the present time.

In 1822, upon the retirement of Lord Sidmouth, he was appointed Secretary of State for the Home Department,—which office he now fills. Mr. Peel was married on the 8th of June, 1820, to Julia, youngest daughter of General Sir John Floyd, and has issue a son and heir, born the 4th of May, 1822.

In the administration of the important duties of his official situation, Mr. Peel is strictly and sedulously active; he himself attends to the maintenance of regularity, and the dispatch of business, in a manner highly deserving of eulogium. Few men have indeed ever discharged their official duties more to their own credit, or the satisfaction of the public, than Mr. Peel, accessible as he is to every one, and most kindly regardful of whatever business his attention is solicited to. In private life, he is distinguished by the same pleasing manners, and is in a very high degree respected by all who have the pleasure of his intimacy.

As a public speaker, Mr. Peel is distinguished by clearness of statement, and the plain and easy manner in which he unravels difficult and intimate subjects.

În matters of business, no one interests the House of Commons, or secures their attention, better than he does; for although he has not the brilliancy of Canning, or

the caustic satire of Brougham, there is a clearness of arrangement a calm, argumentative, and sometimes eloquent, manner about him, which are extremely effective. His voice is by some considered rather unpleasant, but not sufficiently so to produce any material effect.

But it is not merely by attention to his official duties, or his oratory in the House of Commons, that Mr. Peel is honorably distinguished; his exertions in the public cause are of a nature far more important, and richly merit higher praise than our poor pen can bestow, We, of course, refer to his Jury Bill, and his reform of the criminal law.

That a great book is a great evil, is a truth which the wisdom of ages has sanctioned; but more especially is the evil great and apparent, if the book refers to matters of general importance-if it is the guide of conduct, or the rule of action. This remark is particularly applicable to a code of laws. That which every one is bound to obey, ought to be simple, plain, and easy; and the subject has just cause of complaint, in exact proportion as the law varies from either of these particulars.

Perhaps no book can be imagined more singularly deficient in all these requisites than our own Statute Book, composed as it is of laws written in three different languages, and continually increasing in bulk from the time of Henry III. to the present day. Many of the provisions of statutes yet remaining unrepealed, are wholly unintelligible to any, save the laborious legal antiquary; nay, many of the provisions of the far-famed Magna Charta can with difficulty be understood at all. References are continually made to customs which have long become obsolete to practises now unused---to offences which the change of manners and the variation of circumstances have rendered impossible. The great alterations which have occurred in our language, have in some instances rendered the meaning of the early statutes very uncertain and perplexing; even those passed in more modern times, are couched in language often extremely difficult to be understood, and contain enactments sometimes contradictory. “ It is believed," said Dames Barrington, in the year 1766, “that few lawyers or historians have perused the Statute Book in a regular course of reading;" and we are sure that the remark is more likely to be true at the present day, when the statutes have multiplied beyond all expectation, and more laws are made in one session, than used formerly to be enacted in the course of a long reign. “ The Statutes at Large,” as they are seen ranged in tong rows upon the shelves of lawyers, defy all study, and have become essentially books of reference only, instead of being, what they ought to be, books of practice. But even if viewed in this light, they are extremely defective : the heterogeneous mixture of matters in one Act of Parliament the immense extent to which the statutes have increased—the want of references to former statutes, in some degree similar to more modern ones—these, and many other causes, operate to render the Statute Book, even to lawyers, one of the very worst to look into with a view of searching for the law upon any

particular point; persons who have not been bred to the law, seldom think of referring to a book which is regarded, and will justly continue to be so as long as it remains in its present state, with a sort of pious horror. The necessity of a revision and compression of the laws, has often occupied the attention of learned men; and many plans have been from time to time proposed for the purpose of effecting this desirable object, but entirely without success. Lord Bacon gave his earnest attention to the subject, and submitted to James I. a proposal for the amendment of the laws of England—but nothing was ever carried into effect in consequence of it. Several committees also of the House of Commons have at various times been engaged in this task :-one in the year 1666, of which Finch, afterwards Lord Nottingham, was chairman ; one about 1750, of which Sir William Young was chairman ; and one as late as · 1796, under the presidency of the present Lord Colchester. But all these inquiries have been fruitless-the magnitude of the task, the want of a settled plan, and various other reasons, have contributed to render abortive all attempts to remedy an evil, which every year became more excessive. The truth is, that although the necessity of a revision has been perceived by many, and although many have proposed that a revision should take place, no one man was ever found to attempt the Herculean labour-every one sheltered himself under the greatness, the importance, of the undertaking, and no one was willing himself to grapple with the difficulty. For this reason, it was never conquered; the vastness of the undertaking rendered it impossible to be achieved, except by one man alone it was as unreasonable to set a committee of the House of Commons to perform it, as it would have been to have entrusted to them the task of composing an epic poem. It is a work of time, and labor, and study, depending upon the comparison of printed documents, and an intimate knowledge of all the minutest details of the subjects to which they refer, and such a work is entirely unsuitable to a body of men so various and so fluctuating as a committee must necessarily be.

The subject of our present memoir is the first person who has ever taken

upon himself the vast and difficult undertaking; and as far as he has proceeded, it is universally admitted by men of all professions, ranks, and parties in the state, that he has been preeminently successful. When first he promulgated his intentions, it was considered somewhat presumptuous in one pot bred a lawyer, to undertake a task for which many supposed he must therefore of necessity be incompetent; but experience has fully shown the fallacy of this opinion. The statements, we will not call them clear and plain, but luminous statements, which he has from time to time submitted to the House upon these subjects-his intimate acquaintance not only with the law, but with the history of the enactments, and all other collateral circumstances tending to explain bis views and support his measures, have convinced the most bigotted that our country has at last obtained a Senator not only willing, but in the highest degree competent, to complete the stupendous task.

Mr. Peel has proceeded entirely upon the plan of Lord Bacon, and his objects are, First, to rid the Statute Book of all those laws which were adapted to a state of society no longer existing. Second, to repeal “ all statutes which are sleeping, and not of use, but yet snaring and in force.” Third,“ to mitigate the grievousness of the penalty, although the ordinance stand;" and, Fourth, “ to reduce concurrent statutes into one clear and uniform law." In Mr. Peel's two celebrated bills, one passed in 1825, “ for consolidating and amending the laws relating to Juries," and the other passed in 1826, “ for improving the administration of Criminal Justice,” the effect of the application of these principles is apparent. In the first act, sixty-six, and in the second, thirty-one, former Acts of Parliament are compressed, and either wholly or in part repealed. In both these Acts of Parliament, there are also a variety of new provisions introduced, all of the very highest importance, and tending towards substantial justice. In the Jury Bill there are various important regulations as to the mode of selecting special juries, which are directed to be chosen by ballot; and many other new enactments, which it does not come within the scope of our publication to particularize. Nor can we enumerate the new clauses in the act of 1826, which is still more important than the Jury Bill; the most striking alterations of the old law, are those which tend to relax the technical strictress which has bitherto been maintained in criminal proceedings. The excess to which this strictness has been carried, has long been a cause of surprise to foreigners, and formed a ground of censure against our laws; but Mr. Peel's provisions will in a great degree remove the difficulty complained of. Adherence to mere matters of form, which in criminal proceedings especially was considered of vital importance, has now ceased to be so in many cases which used to afford loop-holes through which the guilty too often, as Lord Hale declared, escaped, “ to the reproach of the law, to the shame of the Government, to the encouragement of villainy, and to the dishonor of God.”

Mr. Peel has also done great service to the administration of the law, by other judicious enactments, especially that which gave a check to the scandalous practice of delay arising by means of groundless Writs of Error. Much, however, still remains to be done; the practice of the law is in some respects many centuries behind the civilization at which every thing else has arrived. Relics of customs as ancient as the times of the Saxons-customs founded upon reasons which have long ceased to operate, still remain. One of these was pointed out in our last number, page 27, and many others as ridiculous may be easily referred to. What, for instance, can be more farcical than those legal gentlemen, John Doe and Richard Rue, the pledges to prosecute ? or what more iniquitous than the expensive conveyances by fine and recovery, which are, in fact, nothing more than an authorized mode of evading a statute ? If it is advantageous that the statute should be evaded that is, not acted upon, it would be far better that it should be repealed, rather than a practice of evasion sanctioned, which is in itself most absurd, founded upon a fiction which outrages common sense, and entails upon parties a most intolerable expense. Indeed, it does not appear clear to us that there can be good reason assigned for the toleration of any one of the old legal fictions. The action of ejectment is uselessly absurd. Mr. Peel is yet a young man, and it is to be hoped, that the energies of his strong and vigorous mind will continue to be earnestly bent upon the great object to which his attention has been directed. The thanks of his fellow-countrymen, the praise of posterity, and an immortality for himself, are the rich rewards he will obtain. He, with a modesty which does him credit, admits upon all proper occasions, that much of his present importance in society, is owing to successful manufacture, and the improvement of machinery; but they who come after him, will then have the far prouder boast of being descended from the man who remoulded the constitution of his country, added vigor to the administration of her laws, and purged them of much of that dross which adheres to the very best of man's productions. No fame can be more glorious—more brilliant; no actions can be more widely, more extensively useful. The poet's glory, or the warrior's fame, weighs lightly in the scale against the more lasting splendor that waits upon the meritorious lawgiver. The productions of the one, may add to the happiness of the refinedthe deeds of the other, may conduce to the temporary welfare of a people—but the framer of a just code of laws, ensures the comfort and security of all classes of society, promotes the permanent interests of mankind, and builds for himself a monument more lasting than brass.

In general politics, Mr. Peel is a consistent supporter of the Pitt principles of the present administration. Upon the Catholic Question, it is well known that he is decidedly hostile to what is termed emancipation ; indeed, he may be considered the leader of the Anti-Catholics in the House of Commons; “but,” forcibly remarks a supporter of Catholic Emancipation, “I must admit, he is a candid, liberal, honest, and therefore formidable, opponent.'

Besides the strict attention to the ordinary duties of his office, which we have before noticed, Mr. Peel has, we understand, given a considerable portion of his time and talents to the prosecution of the inquiry which is at present going on into the documents preserved in the State Paper Office,-an inquiry likely to throw great light upon various points of our history. Mr. Peel is, we believe, an honorary D. C. L., and on the 16th of November, being the first meeting of the Society of Antiquaries for the present session, he was admitted a Fellow of that Society. Of the general estimation in which he is held by the public at large, it is perhaps needless to say a word; were any proof necessary, it would be sufficient to refer to the choice of his younger brother, Major Peel, as Member for Norwich at the late general election. The family of the Peels have no interest or connection whatever in Norwich, and the election can only be regarded, and was intended, as a testimony of the approbation with which the citizens of Norwich regard the public conduct of his brother.William Yates Peel, the second son of Sir Robert Peel, has sat for Tamworth in three Parliaments.

« PreviousContinue »