Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Neaves, Charles

NEAVES, CHARLES, Lord Neaves (1800–1876), Scottish judge, son of Charles Neaves, a solicitor of Forfar, who was afterwards clerk of the justiciary court, Edinburgh, belonged to an old Forfarshire family long settled in the town of Forfar. The original name of Neave was altered to Neaves by the father. Charles, born in Edinburgh on 14 Oct. 1800, was educated at the high school and university there, and after a brilliant academical career was called to the bar in 1822. He soon gained an extensive practice, and even in his early years was engaged in many difficult and important cases. At that time legal pleadings before the court were written, and the literary ability of Neaves speedily declared itself. In 1841 he was appointed advocate-depute when Sir William Rae [q. v.] was lord-advocate, and he retained this position for four years. From 1845 till 1852 he was sheriff of Orkney and Shetland. On the resignation of Lord President David Boyle [q. v.] in May 1852 Neaves was appointed solicitor-general for Scotland in Lord Derby's administration. He held office till Derby's resignation in January 1853; and in the following April was made a judge in the court of session, taking the title of Lord Neaves, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Cockburn. Five years afterwards he was appointed a lord of justiciary, and he filled this office until his death on 23 Dec. 1876. His widow, who survived him, was a daughter of Coll Macdonald of Dalness, writer to the signet, and one of his daughters was married to John Millar, lord Craighill, a judge of the court of session.

In his profession Neaves was regarded as one of the greatest ‘case lawyers’ of his day. His tenacious memory enabled him to quote apposite decisions with unfailing accuracy, and he was one of the foremost authorities on criminal law in Scotland. His reputation as a literary man was almost equally great. For more than forty years he was a regular contributor of prose and verse to ‘Blackwood's Magazine,’ though only a few of his poetical contributions have been republished. One of his favourite studies was philology, and his articles in ‘Blackwood’ on Grimm's philological works are still quoted as authoritative. As a humorist Neaves enjoyed a wide reputation. Many of his most brilliant satires have been published in the volume entitled ‘Songs and Verses, Social and Scientific’ (Edinburgh, 1868, 2nd edit. 1872). His wide knowledge of the classics was shown in his volume on ‘The Greek Anthology,’ 1870 (in Blackwood's ‘Ancient Classics’), which contains many graceful translations and elaborate notes. For more than fifty years he was a prominent figure at all the public literary functions in Edinburgh. He was present at the Theatrical Fund banquet in 1827, when Scott acknowledged the authorship of the ‘Waverley Novels;’ at the banquet given in honour of Dickens in 1841; at the similar function in recognition of Thackeray in 1857; and he presided at the Leyden centenary celebration in 1875. He received the degree of LL.D. from Edinburgh University in 1860 and was elected lord rector of St. Andrews University in 1872. Many of the voluminous manuscripts which he left behind, especially his translations and notes on Greek epigrams not included in his ‘Anthology,’ would be worthy of publication.

Neaves's principal works besides those noticed are:

  1. ‘On Fiction as a Means of Popular Teaching,’ Edinburgh, 1869.
  2. ‘A Glance at some of the Principles of Comparative Philology,’ Edinburgh, 1870.
  3. ‘Lecture on Cheap and Accessible Pleasures,’ Edinburgh, 1872.
  4. ‘Inaugural Address as Lord Rector of the University of St. Andrews,’ Edinburgh, 1873.

[Campbell Smith's Writings by the Way, pp. 468–81; private information.]

A. H. M.