prosecution which, as attorney-general, he raised against the bookseller H. Hetherington, and which he justified on the singular ground that “the vast bulk of the population believe that morality depends entirely on revelation; and if a doubt could be raised among them that the ten commandments were given by God from Mount Sinai, men would think they were at liberty to steal, and women would consider themselves absolved from the restraints of chastity.” But his most distinguished effort at the bar was undoubtedly the speech for the House of Commons in the famous case of Stockdale v. Hansard, 1837, 7 C. and P. 731. The Commons had ordered to be printed, among other papers, a report of the inspectors of prisons on Newgate, which stated that an obscene book, published by Stockdale, was given to the prisoners to read. Stockdale sued the Commons’ publisher, and was met by the plea of parliamentary privilege, to which, however, the judges did not give effect, on the ground that they were entitled to define the privileges of the Commons, and that publication of papers was not essential to the functions of parliament. The matter was settled by an act of 1840.
In 1840 Campbell conducted the prosecution against John Frost, one of the three Chartist leaders who attacked the town of Newport, all of whom were found guilty of high treason. We may also mention, as matter of historical interest, the case before the high steward and the House of Lords which arose out of the duel fought on Wimbledon Common between the earl of Cardigan and Captain Harvey Tuckett. The law of course was clear that the “punctilio which swordsmen falsely do call honour” was no excuse for wilful murder. To the astonishment of everybody, Lord Cardigan escaped from a capital charge of felony because the full name of his antagonist (Harvey Garnett Phipps Tuckett) was not legally proved. It is difficult to suppose that such a blunder was not preconcerted. Campbell himself made the extraordinary declaration that to engage in a duel which could not be declined without infamy (i.e. social disgrace) was “an act free from moral turpitude,” although the law properly held it to be wilful murder. Next year, as the Melbourne administration was near its close, Plunkett, the venerable chancellor of Ireland, was forced by discreditable pressure to resign, and the Whig attorney-general, who had never practised in equity, became chancellor of Ireland, and was raised to the peerage with the title of Baron Campbell of St Andrews, in the county of Fife. His wife, Mary Elizabeth Campbell, the eldest daughter of the first Baron Abinger by one of the Campbells of Kilmorey, Argyllshire, whom he had married in 1821, had in 1836 been created Baroness Stratheden in recognition of the withdrawal of his claim to the mastership of the rolls. The post of chancellor Campbell held for only sixteen days, and then resigned it to his successor Sir Edward Sugden (Lord St Leonards). The circumstances of his appointment and the erroneous belief that he was receiving a pension of £4000 per annum for his few days’ court work brought Campbell much unmerited obloquy. It was during the period 1841–1849, when he had no legal duty, except the self-imposed one of occasionally hearing Scottish appeals in the House of Lords, that the unlucky dream of literary fame troubled Lord Campbell’s leisure.
Following in the path struck out by Miss Strickland in her Lives of the Queens of England, and by Lord Brougham’s Lives of Eminent Statesmen, he at last produced, in 1849, The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of England, from the earliest times till the reign of King George IV., 7 vols. 8vo. The conception of this work is magnificent; its execution wretched. Intended to evolve a history of jurisprudence from the truthful portraits of England’s greatest lawyers, it merely exhibits the ill-digested results of desultory learning, without a trace of scientific symmetry or literary taste, without a spark of that divine imaginative sympathy which alone can give flesh and spirit to the dead bones of the past, and without which the present becomes an unintelligible maze of mean and selfish ideas. A charming style, a vivid fancy, exhaustive research, were not to be expected from a hard-worked barrister; but he must certainly be held responsible for the frequent plagiarisms, the still more frequent inaccuracies of detail, the colossal vanity which obtrudes on almost every page, the hasty insinuations against the memory of the great departed who were to him as giants, and the petty sneers which he condescends to print against his own contemporaries, with whom he was living from day to day on terms of apparently sincere friendship.
These faults are painfully apparent in the lives of Hardwicke, Eldon, Lyndhurst and Brougham, and they have been pointed out by the biographers of Eldon and by Lord St Leonards. And yet the book is an invaluable repertory of facts, and must endure until it is superseded by something better. It was followed by the Lives of the Chief Justices of England, from the Norman Conquest till the death of Lord Mansfield, 8vo, 2 vols., a book of similar construction but inferior merit.
It must not be supposed that during this period the literary lawyer was silent in the House of Lords. He spoke frequently. The 3rd volume of the Protests of the Lords, edited by Thorold Rogers (1875), contains no less than ten protests by Campbell, entered in the years 1842–1845. He protests against Peel’s Income Tax Bill of 1842; against the Aberdeen Act 1843, as conferring undue power on church courts; against the perpetuation of diocesan courts for probate and administration; against Lord Stanley’s absurd bill providing compensation for the destruction of fences to dispossessed Irish tenants; and against the Parliamentary Proceedings Bill, which proposed that all bills, except money bills, having reached a certain stage or having passed one House, should be continued to next session. The last he opposed because the proper remedy lay in resolutions and orders of the House. He protests in favour of Lord Monteagle’s motion for inquiry into the sliding scale of corn duties; of Lord Normanby’s motion on the queen’s speech in 1843, for inquiry into the state of Ireland (then wholly under military occupation); of Lord Radnor’s bill to define the constitutional powers of the home secretary, when Sir James Graham opened Mazzini’s letters. In 1844 he records a solitary protest against the judgment of the House of Lords in R. v. Millis, 1844, 10 Cla. and Fin. 534, which affirmed that a man regularly married according to the rites of the Irish Presbyterian Church, and afterwards regularly married to another woman by an episcopally ordained clergyman, could not be convicted of bigamy, because the English law required for the validity of a marriage that it should be performed by an ordained priest.
On the resignation of Lord Denman in 1850, Campbell was appointed chief justice of the queen’s bench. For this post he was well fitted by his knowledge of common law, his habitual attention to the pleadings in court and his power of clear statement. On the other hand, at nisi prius and on the criminal circuit, he was accused of frequently attempting unduly to influence juries in their estimate of the credibility of evidence. It is also certain that he liked to excite applause in the galleries by some platitude about the “glorious Revolution” or the “Protestant succession.” He assisted in the reforms of special pleading at Westminster, and had a recognized place with Brougham and Lyndhurst in legal discussions in the House of Lords. But he had neither the generous temperament nor the breadth of view which is required in the composition of even a mediocre statesman. In 1859 he was made lord chancellor of Great Britain, probably on the understanding that Bethell should succeed as soon as he could be spared from the House of Commons. His short tenure of this office calls for no remark. In the same year he published in the form of a letter to Payne Collier an amusing and extremely inconclusive essay on Shakespeare’s legal acquirements. One passage will show the conjectural
- See thereon J. B. Atlay, The Victorian Chancellors (1908), vol. ii. p. 174.
- In 1842 he published the Speeches of Lord Campbell at the Bar and in the Home of Commons, with an Address to the Irish Bar as Lord Chancellor of Ireland (Edin., Black).
- It was of this book that Sir Charles Wetherell said, referring to its author, “and then there is my noble and biographical friend who has added a new terror to death.” See Misrepresentations in Campbell’s “Lives of Lyndhurst and Brougham” corrected by St Leonards (London, 1869).