Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 32.djvu/223

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Law
Law
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on the judicial bench, and with William Coxe [q. v.], who drew a flattering description of his friend as 'Philotes' (Quarterly Review, 1. 102–3). Law was third wrangler and senior chancellor's medallist in 1771, and obtained the member's prize for the second best Latin essay in 1772 and 1773. He graduated B.A. 1771 and M.A. 1774. Though his father wished to have all his sons in the church, Law determined to try his fortune at the bar, and was admitted a student at Lincoln's Inn on 10 June 1769. Having been elected a fellow of his college on 29 June 1771, Law was enabled to go up to London, where he became the pupil of George Wood, the celebrated special pleader, who afterwards became a baron of the exchequer. In 1775 he commenced practising as a special pleader on his own account, and soon made a handsome income. After five years' drudgery in chambers he was called to the bar on 12 June 1780 (the same day as William Pitt, his fellow-student of Lincoln's Inn), and joined the northern circuit, where his family connection and the reputation which he had acquired as a special pleader stood him in good stead. He rapidly acquired a large practice, and in spite of Thurlow's objections to his whig principles was made a king's counsel on 27 June 1787, and on 16 Nov. 1787 was elected a bencher of the Inner Temple, to which society he had been admitted in November 1782 on leaving Lincoln's Inn. Hitherto Law's fame at the bar had been confined to the northern circuit; but on the suggestion of Sir Thomas Rumbold, who had married his youngest sister, Joanna, he was retained as the leading counsel for Warren Hastings, his juniors being Thomas Plumer and Robert Dallas [q. v.], both of whom were subsequently raised to the bench. The ability with which he conducted the defence was quickly recognised, and in the many wrangles with the managers on the numerous and important questions of evidence he showed that he was quite capable of holding his own. The trial commenced on 13 Feb. 1788, but it was not until 14 Feb. 1792 that Law's turn came to open the defence. His speech, which lasted three days (Bond, Speeches of the Managers and Counsel in the Trial of Warren Hastings, 1860, ii. 524–683), was most remarkable for the lucidity of the statements and the manly vigour of the arguments, though 'the finer passages have rarely been surpassed by any effort of forensic power … and would have ranked with the most successful exhibitions of the oratorical art had they been delivered in the early stage of the trial' (Lord Brougham, Historical Sketches, 3rd ser. p. 205). At the commencement of his speech he appears to have been exceedingly nervous, and unable to do himself justice; but on the second day 'Mr. Law was far more animated and less frightened, and acquitted himself so as to emit as much éloge as, in my opinion, he had merited censure at the opening' (Diary and Letters of Madame d'Arblay, 1842, v. 282–9). On 15 and 19 Feb. 1793 Law opened the defence on the second charge, relating to the treatment of the begums of Oude (ib. iii. 172–294), and two years later, on 23 April 1795, his client was acquitted by a large majority. Long before the conclusion of the trial Law had acquired a lucrative London practice and had established his reputation as a leading authority on mercantile questions. Alarmed at the excesses of the French revolution, Law deserted the whig party, and on 14 Nov. 1793 was appointed by the tory government attorney-general and serjeant of the county palatine of Lancaster. As one of the counsel for the crown he assisted at the trials of Lord George Gordon in 1787 (Howell, State Trials, xxii. 213–336), of Thomas Hardy in 1794 (ib. xxiv. 199–1408), of John Horne Tooke in 1794 (ib. xxv. 1–748), of William Stone in 1796 (ib. pp. 1155–1438), of John Reeves in 1796 (ib. xxvi. 529–96), and by his brilliant cross-examination of Sheridan procured a verdict for the crown in 1799 at the trial of Lord Thanet and others for assisting in the attempt to rescue Arthur O'Connor (ib. xxvii. 821–986). He also conducted the prosecutions of Thomas Walker at Lancaster in April 1794 (ib. xxiii. 1055–1166), of Henry Redhead, otherwise Yorke, at York in July 1795 (ib. xxv. 1003–1154), and, as attorney-general, of Joseph Wall at the Old Bailey in January 1802 (ib. xxviii. 51–178).

On the accession of Addington to power Law was appointed attorney-general (14 Feb. 1801) in the place of Sir John Mitford, who had been elected speaker on Addington's resignation of the chair. He was knighted on the 20th of the same month by George III, who asked him if he had ever been in parliament, and being answered in the negative added, 'That is right; my attorney-general ought not to have been in parliament, for then, you know, he is not obliged to eat his own words' (H. Best, Personal and Literary Memorials, 1829, p. 107). A few days afterwards Law was returned to the House of Commons for the borough of Newtown in the Isle of Wight, and on 18 March, in a fiery maiden speech, supported the bill for continuing martial law in Ireland, to the operation of which measure 'he conceived the house owed their debating at this mo-