Coulson, Walter (DNB00)


COULSON, WALTER (1794?–1860), lawyer and man of letters, the second son of Thomas Coulson, master painter for many years in the royal dockyard at Devonport (who died in 1845), by Catherine, second daughter of Walter Borlase, surgeon of Penzance, was born at Torpoint in Cornwall, as it is believed, in 1794. His rise is succinctly set forth in the following extract from Jeremy Bentham's life (Works, x. 573): ‘My brother made acquaintance with the father of the ——s [Coulsons], a man of cleverness and experience, and a head on his shoulders. He got an appointment in one of the dockyards. He had two sons, W—— [Walter] and T—— [Thomas]. I took W—— first, who was with me two or three years. He was forward but cold, yet I once drew tears from his eyes. He became reporter to the “Chronicle,” which was his making. T—— was a good boy, who died young’ [1813, when aged 22]. Coulson acted as amanuensis to Bentham, and it was no doubt through Bentham's influence that he obtained a place as parliamentary reporter on the staff of the ‘Morning Chronicle.’ James Mill and Francis Place, the famous Westminster reformer, were among his earliest friends, and the first writings of John Stuart Mill appeared in the ‘Traveller’ in 1822, then the ‘property of the well-known political economist, Colonel Torrens, and under the editorship of an able man, Walter Coulson.’ That paper was united with the ‘Globe’ in 1823, and Coulson was appointed the editor of the dual organ, with the salary of 800l. a year and a share of the profits, continuing for some time as the reporter of the ‘Chronicle.’ When the new venture became successful, he retired from reporting and confined himself to editorship, which he prosecuted with such zeal and ability as to raise his paper to a high pitch of prosperity. He now determined upon studying for the bar, and was duly called at Gray's Inn on 26 Nov. 1828, becoming a Q.C. in July 1851, and a bencher of his inn in November 1851. conveyancing and chancery bar business was the branch to which he wisely, for he was no orator, confined his attention, and in this division of the law he quickly attained to a leading position. By these labours he gained a competency as well as reputation, and was thus enabled, when differences of opinion arose between him and the proprietors of the ‘Globe,’ to resign the editorship. He was long the parliamentary draughtsman or counsel for the home department, when his labours, though not generally known, were warmly appreciated by the leading politicians of the age. The act for the sale of encumbered estates in Ireland was draughted by him and Lord Romilly, and it is styled by Lord Russell (Recollections, pp. 195–6) an admirable tribute to their ‘constructive skill.’ When the great change in the administration of Indian affairs was effected, the duty of collecting information on its laws and of drawing up a legal code was offered to Coulson, but he loved the social life of London, and preferred to stop at home, even though he acquired wealth less rapidly. He died at North Bank, St. John's Wood, London, on 21 Nov. 1860, and was buried at Kensal Green. His will was proved 14 Dec. 1860, most of his landed property and personalty being left to his brother William [q. v.], the surgeon, for his life, and afterwards to his two nephews. Coulson lived in early life on intimate terms with the chief men of letters in London. At Charles Lamb's evening parties he was a frequent guest, and he enjoyed the reputation, according to Crabb Robinson (Diary, i. 488, 506), of being ‘a prodigy of knowledge.’ Cowden Clarke confirms this opinion, stating that the wits used to tease him with the nickname of ‘the giant Cormoran,’ in allusion to his Cornish descent, but to dub him also ‘the walking Encyclopædia,’ as almost boundless in his varied extent of knowledge (Recollections, p. 26). He was godfather to Hazlitt's first child, and was an occasional guest at the critic's house in York Street, Westminster (W. C. Hazlitt, Life of Hazlitt, p. 26). Leigh Hunt was another of Coulson's friends, and through Hunt he was introduced to Procter. Hunt calls him ‘the admirable Coulson.’ Procter says that although ordinarily grave Coulson was good in ‘comic imitations,’ but that the ‘vis comica left him for the most part in later life’ (Procter, Autobiog. 136, 196). Barham, of the ‘Ingoldsby Legends,’ and Thomas Love Peacock wrote in his paper through their friendship with him, and he was one of James Mill's associates in his Sunday walks. Coulson is said to have contributed to the ‘Edinburgh Review’ a review of Mill's ‘History of India,’ and when the ‘Parliamentary History and Review’ was started about 1825 with the object of publishing the debates in a classified form he wrote an article ‘of great merit.’ In June 1821 he was elected a member of the Political Economy Club, and from 1823 to 1858 brought forward at its meetings numerous questions for discussion, and he was placed on the royal commission for the exhibition of 1851, when he took an active part in its proceedings. It was in a cottage on Coulson's Kentish estate near Maidstone that John Black, the editor of the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ lived from 1843 to 1855.

[Bain's James Mill, 183, 314, 339–40; Memoir of M. D. Hill (1878), 62–3; Mill's Autobiography, 87–8; Leigh Hunt's Corresp. i. 98, 120, 126–34; Peacock's Works, i. xxxviii–xl; Barham's Life, ii. 29, 205; London Review, i. 517, 597; Gent. Mag. 1861, p. 111; Political Economy Club Proceedings, iv. (1882), passim; Boase's Collectanea Cornub. 170–1.]

W. P. C.