Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bernard, Mountague
BERNARD, MOUNTAGUE (1820–1882), international lawyer, was descended from a Huguenot family which left France after the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and for several generations owned land at Montego Bay in Jamaica. He was the third son of Mr. Charles Bernard of Eden in that island, bv Margaret, daughter of Mr. John Baker of Waresley House, Worcestershire, and was born at Tibbert on Court, Gloucestershire, on 28 Jan. 1820. After passing through Sherborne school, he gained a scholarship at Trinity College, Oxford, where Professor Freeman. Sir R. Lingen, and the present bishop of St. David's, Dr. W. B. Jones, were scholars at the same time. In 1842 he took a first class in classics and a second in mathematics. He subsequently took the degree of bachelor of civil law, was elected to the Vinerian scholarship and fellowship, and in 1840, after studying in the chambers of Mr. Palmer, now Lord Selborne, with whom it was his fortune to be associated on several occasions in after life, was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn. Few thoughtful minds at Oxford forty years ago escaped the influence, by way either of attraction or repulsion, of the high-church movement. Bernard's interest in ecclesiastical questions led him in 1846 to be one of those who founded the 'Guardian' newspaper, of which he is said to have been for some years the editor. He also found time for much historical reading, and for a wider study of legal systems than is usual for a practising lawyer. The Oxford University Commissioners of 1864 having founded a chair of international law and diplomacy out of the revenues of All Souls' College, Bernard in 1859 became its first holder. The appointment was in many ways a happy one. A new subject was introduced by a teacher of unquestioned authority; the academical study of law gained a zealous advocate, while the university acquired a wise counsellor and an indefatigable helper in the details of its administration. Bernard was appointed assessor, or judge, of the Chancellor's Court, and, as such, was instnmiental in assimilating its procedure, which had previously been that of the civilians, to the practice of the courts of common law. But the demand for his services was not confined to the precincts of the university. In 1866 he was secretary to the royal commission for investigating the nature of the cattle plague, and in 1868 was a member of the commission on naturalisation and allegiance, the report, of which led to the abandonment by Great Britain of the time-honoured, but now inconvenient rule, 'nemo potest exuere patriam.' In 1871 he went out to America as one of the high commissioners who eventually signed the treaty of Washington, and on his return was made a privy councillor, a member of the Judicial Committee of Council, and a D.C.L. He had been elected, a year or two previously, to a fellowship in All Souls' College. In 1872 he was sent to Geneva to assist Sir Roundell Palmer in presenting the British case to the tribunal of arbitration constituted in pursuance of the treaty. His public employments had become hardly compatible with his work at Oxford, and in 1874 he resigned his professorship and left the university. Henceforth he lived chiefly in London or with relations at Overross near Ross in Herefordshire, reappearing only from time to time in his rooms at All Souls. In 1876 he served on the royal commission for inquiring into the duties of commanders of British vessels with reference to fugitive slaves, and in 1877 became a member of the University of Oxford Commission under the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act of that year. Upon this commission, at any rate after Lord Selborne, upon becoming a second time lord chancellor, had ceased to preside over it, Bernard's combination of legal training with academical experience gave him the leading place. To him, more than to any single commissioner, is doubtless due the character of compromise which was arrived at between the interests of the university on the one hand and the autonomy of the colleges on the other. The commission has been blamed for timidity, but its work was much more thorough than is generally supposed. The university is now not only better endowed than it has ever been, but is also far better organised than it has been for some centuries past. The faculties have been revived, and encouragement has been given to branches of learning which have no direct bearing upon the examinations. The labour of constructing what was practically a new corpus juris academicum for the university and its twenty colleges was immense, and seems to have fatally overtaxed the strength of Bernard. In the spring of 1882, just when the new statutes for Oxford had received the royal assent, he became seriously ill, and after lingering for some months, died at Overross on 2 Sept. of that year.
Bernard was accomplished in all branches of law, and his reputation as a master of the law of nations was as high on the continent and in America as in his own country. He was one of the original members of the Institut de Droit International, founded in 1873, and presided over its Oxford meeting in 1880 with much tact and dignity. As a professor he inclined rather to the historical than to the systematic exposition of his subject, dwelling by preference upon the analysis of treaties, the character of politicians, and the by-play of diplomacy. He could be generous, both of time and money. He was laborious, impartial, conscientious, fastidious, and averse to extremes. All that he did was governed by a consummate common-sense, which was, however, perhaps wanting in robustness. Though sometimes reserved in manner, he could be delightful as a conversationalist, and was the friend of many of the leading men of his day. His public services were of a very high order, though not of a kind to win the applause, or even to come to the knowledge, of the public generally. A monument erected to his memory in All Souls' College chapel truly sets forth how 'in hoc collegio xv. annos, turn juris gentium professor, turn socius bis cooptatus, Academiam scientia, ingenio, exemplo, auxit et ornavit ; Reipublicse fideliter deserviit.'
His style as a writer reflected his qualities as a man. It was conspicuous for good sense, good taste, and lucidity. The following is probably a complete list of his acknowledged writings: 1. The article on 'The Growth of Laws and Usages of War,' in the 'Oxford Essays' for 1856, T. W. Parker, London. 2. 'Remarks on the Proposed Alteration of the Law of Naval Prize,' 1857, London. 3. 'An Introductory Lecture on International Law,' 1859, Oxford. 4. 'A Lecture on the Principles of Nonintervention,' 1860, T. W. Parker, Oxford and London. 5. 'Two Lectures on the Present American War,' 1861, Parker, Oxford. 6. 'Notes on some Questions suggested by the Case of the Trent,' 1862, Oxford. 7. 'A Lecture on Alleged Violations of Neutrality by England in the Present War,' 1863, Ridgway, London. 8. 'A Letter to the Vice-Chancellor on the Study of Law at Oxford,' 1864, University Press. 9. 'A Lecture on the Schleswig-Holstein Question,' 1864, University Press. 10. 'Remarks on some late Decisions respecting the Colonial Church,' 1866, Oxford. 11. 'Four Lectures on Diplomacy,' 1868, Macmillan, London. 12. f Notes on the Academical Study of Law,' 1868, Oxford. 13. 'An Historical Account of the Neutrality of Great Britain during the American Civil War,' 1870, 4to, Longmans, London. 14. 'A Letter to the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone on the Statutes of the University ' (dated 27 Feb.), 1882, Rivington, London.[Personal knowledge.]