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SAURIN, WILLIAM (1757?–1839), attorney-general for Ireland, the second son of James Saurin, vicar of Belfast, was born in that town in 1757 or 1758. His grandfather, or, according to Agnew (ii. 425), his great-grandfather, Louis Saurin, D.D., a younger brother of the celebrated French preacher, Jacques Saurin, came of a good Languedoc family (Haag, La France Protestante, ed. 1858, ix. 177), noted for its attachment to the reformed church. But being, in consequence of the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685, compelled to leave France, he was for some time minister of the French church in the Savoy; but, proceeding to Ireland about 1727, he was on 22 March presented to the deanery of Ardagh, and on 3 June 1736 installed archdeacon of Derry. He married, in 1714, Henriette Cornel de la Bretonnière, and, dying in September 1749, was buried at St. Anne's, Dublin. James Saurin, his son, succeeded Richard Stewart as vicar of Belfast in 1747; he married, about 1754, Mrs. Duff, the widow, it is presumed, of John Duff, who had been four times sovereign of Belfast, and died in office in 1753; he was much respected in Belfast, where he died about 1774, leaving four sons: Louis, William, James, and Mark Anthony.

William, after receiving a fair education at Saumarez Dubourdien's school at Lisburn, entered Trinity College, Dublin, as a fellow-commoner in 1775, and graduated B.A. in 1777. Proceeding to London, he entered Lincoln's Inn, and was called to the Irish bar in 1780. He was noted as a diligent student, but did not rise rapidly in his profession. On 21 Jan. 1786 he married Mary, widow of Sir Richard Cox [q. v.], daughter of Edward O'Brien and sister of the second and third marquises of Thomond [see O'Brien, James, third Marquis of Thomond], by whom he had a large family. The able manner, however, in which he acted as agent to the Hon. E. Ward in 1790 in contesting the representation of co. Down with Robert Stewart (afterwards Viscount Castlereagh), attracted attention to him, and from that time his business steadily increased. He was retained for the defendant in the case of Curran v. Sandys on 16 Feb. 1795, and his speech as junior counsel on that occasion has been highly commended. In 1796 the Irish bar conferred on him the honour of electing him captain-commandant of their corps of yeomanry, and on 6 July 1798 he was granted a patent of precedence immediately after the prime serjeant, attorney and solicitor general. He served the government that year in some of the trials arising out of the rebellion, notably in that of the brothers Sheares, William Michael Byrne, and Oliver Bond. He was offered the post of solicitor-general, vacant through the elevation of John Toler (afterwards first Earl of Norbury) [q. v.] to the attorney-generalship; but, notwithstanding the pressure brought to bear upon him, he resolutely refused to accept it in consequence of having made up his mind to oppose the government on their union scheme. At a meeting of the bar on 9 Sept. he moved a resolution to the effect that a union was an innovation dangerous and improper to propose at that time (Seward, Collectanea Politica, iii. 475); but, according to under-secretary Cooke, neither he nor the gentleman who seconded him spoke very forcibly (Castlereagh Corresp. i. 343), and his opinion was confirmed by Sir Jonah Barrington (Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation, ed. 1853, p. 317). Not content, however, with offering a constitutional opposition to the measure, he tried to involve the bar as a body in his opposition. But the order he issued to the corps to assemble ‘to take into their consideration a question of the greatest national importance’ was disapproved by many of the bar, and was countermanded. It was as well that the attempt to give a military appearance to his agitation was abandoned, for government had resolved to mark its disapprobation by depriving him of his silk gown. His conduct was, however, approved by the city of Dublin, and in July 1799 a resolution conferring on him the freedom of the city, ‘for his manly resistance of a legislative union,’ was carried in the commons, and adopted by the court of aldermen with the omission of the clause relating to his ‘manly resistance.’

The retirement of the Hon. Richard Annesley, who had accepted the escheatorship of Munster—the Irish equivalent for the Chiltern Hundreds—having created a vacancy in parliament, Saurin was, by the influence of Lord Downshire, returned M.P. for the borough of Blessington in 1799. He spoke three times at considerable length against the union in January, March, and June, 1800, his argument going to prove that parliament could not alienate the rights of the nation, and that if the union was carried without having been brought constitutionally before the people, it would not be morally binding, and the right of resistance would remain. His doctrine was denounced as a manifest incitement to rebellion, and Castlereagh declared that, ‘however his professional opinions might accord with the principles of the constitution, his doctrines in the House were those of Tom Paine.’ And in his last speech on 26 June he displayed ‘more caution and moderation on the subject of the competence of parliament’ (Cornwallis Corresp. iii. 248). His opposition to the union has been highly eulogised by writers who reprobate that measure, but it was based on narrow professional interests and hostility to the Roman catholics rather than on broad national grounds. Of patriotism outside the narrow limits of the protestant ascendency he had no conception; and his subsequent career, so far from being illogical, was the natural result of the motives that inspired his opposition to the union. He was again offered and again declined the post of solicitor-general in 1803; but four years later he yielded to friendly pressure, and on 21 May 1807 was appointed attorney-general for Ireland under the Duke of Richmond as lord lieutenant. This, the most important post perhaps in the Irish government, he continued to hold till January 1822, and during that long period of fourteen years he was the heart and soul of the opposition to the catholic claims. In 1811 he advised and conducted the prosecution of Dr. Sheridan under the provisions of the Convention Act of 1793, and, though on that occasion failing to secure a conviction, he was more successful in a similar charge against Mr. Kirwan in the year following. His conduct was regarded as arbitrary, and even unconstitutional by the catholics, and strenuous but ineffectual efforts were made to obtain his removal.

During Peel's tenure of the Irish secretaryship he lived on terms of cordial intimacy with him. He conducted the prosecution in 1813 against John Magee [q. v.], editor and proprietor of the ‘Dublin Evening Post,’ for an alleged libel against the Duke of Richmond, but with the avowed object of wresting that formidable instrument of agitation out of the hands of the catholics, thereby drawing down on himself the wrath of O'Connell, who did not spare to hint at his foreign origin and ‘Jacobinical’ conduct during the union debates. So intense, indeed, was O'Connell's indignation that when Magee was brought up for judgment, he distorted something that Saurin said into a personal insult, and declared that only his respect for the temple of justice restrained him from corporally chastising him. The ‘scene’ was brought to a close by Saurin declaring that he had not meant to refer to O'Connell; but there can be little question that the attack to which he had been subjected intensified his hatred both of O'Connell individually and also of the catholics generally. And it is perhaps not unfair to attribute to a feeling of personal animosity against O'Connell the pertinacity with which he insisted on the suppression in the following year of the catholic board (Parker, Sir Robert Peel, p. 139). That he could and did use his position to promote an anti-catholic agitation, the discovery of his famous letter to Lord Norbury, urging him to influence the grand juries on circuit, places beyond doubt. His intolerance seemed to Lord Wellesley to render his removal necessary, and in 1822 he was superseded by Plunket. The blow was wholly unexpected, and, in indignation at what he conceived to be his betrayal by Lord Liverpool, he refused a judgeship coupled with a peerage, and returned to his practice at the chancery bar. ‘I have been told,’ said Lord Wellesley in explaining his conduct, ‘that I have ill-treated Mr. Saurin. I offered him the chief-justiceship of the king's bench: that was not ill-treating him. I offered him an English peerage: that was not ill-treating him. I did not, it is true, continue him in the viceroyalty of Ireland, for I am the viceroy of Ireland’ ({{sc|Grattan}, Life of Grattan, v. 123 n.) Though deprived of office, Saurin still continued to exercise considerable influence in the government of the country, and was an active promoter of the formation of the Brunswick club in 1828. His presence at a general meeting of the Brunswick Constitutional Club at the Rotunda, on 19 Feb. 1829, was hailed with rapture by the Orange party, and probably if the agitation had been successful in withholding catholic emancipation, he would have become chancellor of Ireland (cf. Gent. Mag. 1839, ii. 88).

Becoming father of the bar, and beginning to feel the weight of years press heavily on him, he retired from practice in 1831, and died on 11 Jan. 1839. His widow survived till 28 Jan. 1840. Of his children, the eldest son, Admiral Edward Saurin, married, on 15 July 1828, Lady Mary Ryder (who died in her 100th year on 5 Aug. 1900), second daughter of the first earl of Harrowby, and died on 28 Feb. 1878, leaving, with other children, a son, William Granville Saurin, esq. Somewhat below medium height, Saurin's physiognomy betrayed his French origin. His eyes, shaded by dark and shaggy eyebrows, were black and piercing, but their glance was not unkindly. His forehead was thoughtful rather than bold, and furrowed by long study and care. His knowledge of law was profound; his personal character beyond reproach; his manner of speaking, if not eloquent, was earnest and impressive; but in political life it seemed as if the shadow of the revocation of the edict of Nantes ever confronted his mental gaze.

[There is an uncritically eulogistic biography in Wills's Irish Nation, iii. 448–59, and an inadequate life in Webb's Compendium. The present article is based on notices in Agnew's French Protestant Exiles, ii. 425, 478–9; Ulster Journal of Archæology, ii. 175–8; Gent. Mag. 1839, ii. 88; Haag's La France Protestante; Cotton's Fasti Eccles. Hib.; Smyth's Law Officers; Howell's State Trials, vol. xxvii.; Grattan's Life of Henry Grattan, v. 15, 120–3; the published correspondence of Lords Cornwallis and Castlereagh; MacDougall's Sketches of Irish Political Characters; Parker's Sir Robert Peel; Fitzpatrick's Corresp. of Daniel O'Connell; O'Keeffe's Life and Times of O'Connell; Sheil's Sketches, Legal and Political.]

R. D.