Scott, William (1745-1836) (DNB00)
SCOTT, WILLIAM Lord Stowell (1745–1836), fourth child and eldest son of William Scott of Newcastle-on-Tyne, who was at various times a ‘hoastman’ and ‘coal-fitter’ or coal-shipper, and a small publican, by his second wife, Jane, daughter of Henry Atkinson, a local tradesman, was born 17 Oct. 1745 (O.S.) The public alarm at the Jacobite rebellion and General Cope's defeat at Prestonpans caused his mother to remove for her confinement to her father's country house at Heworth, a place about three miles from Newcastle, and on the Durham side of the Tyne; it is said that, as the town gates were shut and egress forbidden, she was lowered from the walls into a boat. At any rate, but for the lucky accident of his birth in the county of Durham, neither he nor his brother John, afterwards Lord Eldon [q. v.], was likely to have gone to Oxford. For some years William Scott was educated at the Newcastle grammar school, under the Rev. Hugh Moises [q. v.], fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and, on his advice, he stood for and obtained a scholarship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, open to persons born in Durham. Seven days after his election he matriculated, on 3 March 1761. On 20 November 1764 he took his B.A. degree, and on 14 Dec. was elected on probation to a Durham fellowship at University College, and was admitted actual fellow on 14 June 1765. He was at once appointed one of the two college tutors, and in this capacity earned the reputation of being ‘a very useful, ingenious man’ (G. Birkbeck Hill, Letters of S. Johnson, i. 311, 420); eventually he became senior tutor. He appears, however, from a letter to his father in 1772, to have found the work an excessive strain on his health. On 17 June 1767 he took his M.A. degree, proceeded B.C.L. on 30 May 1772, and in 1773, on the death of John Warneford, he was, after a contest, elected by convocation Camden reader in ancient history. He never published his lectures, and forbade his executors to do so; but they were very popular and almost as much esteemed as Blackstone's Vinerian lectures. Gibbon speaks of them with approbation from hearsay, and singles Scott out as a shining example amid the general incapacity of university teachers of the time; Dr. Parr, who seems to have heard them, praises them highly (see Quart. Rev. lxxv. 33); and Milman, who saw the notes of them after his death, confirms Gibbon's statement (Milman, Life of Gibbon, 1839, p. 83).
Scott's intimate friendship with Dr. Johnson began at Oxford, and continued till Johnson's death. Robert Chambers [q. v.], his companion at school and college, brought them together when Johnson was visiting him at University College. He accompanied Johnson from Newcastle to Edinburgh in August 1773, was elected a member of The Club in December 1778, and lived to be its senior member, and with Hawkins and Reynolds was an executor of Johnson's will. Boswell records (Boswell, Life of Johnson, edit. 1835, vii. 97–108) a long conversation at a dinner at Scott's rooms in the Middle Temple on 10 April 1778, and Scott was a member of, though not an attendant at, the club formed in 1784 by a number of Johnson's most intimate friends, to meet monthly at the Essex Head in Essex Street, Strand, near Johnson's house (Nichols, Literary Anecdotes, ii. 553). Croker obtained from Lord Stowell, in 1829, a considerable number of written reminiscences of Johnson, as well as much personal information. The latter he used freely in his edition of Boswell, but the former were sent by post to Sir Walter Scott, and, the mail being robbed, disappeared; owing to Lord Stowell's advanced age they never were rewritten (Croker Papers, ii. 27–35).
Scott's wish had long been to go to the bar, and as early as 24 June 1762 he entered himself as a student at the Middle Temple, but his own caution and his father's reticence about his own means led him to put off his removal to London. In the autumn of 1776 his father died, leaving him an estate in Durham named Usworth, the family house in Love Lane, Newcastle, and other property, worth altogether, according to Lord Eldon, 24,000l. In winding up his father's estate, he for some time continued his shipping business, and thus gained a practical experience, which was afterwards of professional value to him. Accordingly he resigned his tutorship, and early in 1777 took chambers at 3 King's Bench Walk, Temple; but, retaining his Camden readership till 1785, he continued to reside occasionally in Oxford. He particularly interested himself in increasing the collections in the Bodleian Library, and assisted in raising the fund for the purchase of rare works at the Pinelli and Crevenna sales.
He elected to practise in the admiralty and ecclesiastical courts, and for that purpose took the degree of D.C.L. on 23 June 1779, and was admitted a member of the faculty of advocates at Doctors' Commons on 3 Nov. in the same year. He was also called to the bar on 11 Feb. 1780. At first he was so unready a speaker that, although he had once spoken for his friend, Andrew Robinson Stoney or Bowes, at the Newcastle election in 1777, he wrote out his arguments, and for several months read them in court from manuscript; but his talents, coupled with his singular combination of wide reading in history and civil law, and practical experience of both college and shipping business, soon began to tell in the special courts in which he sought to practise. Briefs and preferments alike were heaped upon him. ‘His success is wonderful,’ writes John Scott in 1783, ‘and he has been fortunate beyond example.’ On 21 May 1782 he received the crown appointment of advocate-general for the office of lord high admiral, the emoluments of which in times of war were considerable; in 1783 the archbishop of Canterbury appointed him to the sinecure office, worth 400l. a year, of registrar of the court of faculties. On 30 Aug. 1788 the bishop of London constituted him judge of the consistory court of London. On 3 Sept. 1788 he was knighted, and from the same day ran his appointment as king's advocate-general, in succession to Sir William Wynne, promoted to be dean of arches, though the patent was dated 28 Oct. On 24 Sept. 1788 the archbishop of Canterbury appointed him vicar-general for the province of Canterbury; and he was also commissary of the city and diocese of Canterbury, and chancellor of the diocese of London. On the death of Halifax, bishop of St. Asaph, he became master of the faculties on 3 April 1790, and was elected a bencher of his inn on 5 July 1794, serving as treasurer in 1807, and finally, on 26 Oct. 1798, he was appointed judge of the high court of admiralty, and was sworn of the privy council.
Scott had not been long at the bar before he sought to enter parliament. As early as 1779 he wrote to his brother that he wanted to find a seat. When Sir Roger Newdigate retired from the representation of the university of Oxford in 1780, Scott and Sir William Jones both came forward, but, as their friends saw, with little chance of success (Johnson to Mrs. Thrale, 9 May and 6 June 1780). Sir William Dolben was returned. In 1784 Scott was elected for the close borough of Downton, but was unseated on petition; he stood again in 1790 and won and kept the seat. At last, on Sir William Dolben's death in March 1801, he was elected for Oxford University, and continued to represent it till his elevation to the House of Lords. During his first six years in the House of Commons he spoke only once, on 2 June 1795, when, having been mentioned by Dundas as the legal adviser of ministers with regard to the instructions sent to Sir Charles Grey and Sir John Jervis in the West Indies, he was compelled to rise and take part in the debate. Afterwards he made occasional speeches and brought in bills on ecclesiastical and legal questions. He proposed Abbot, his fellow university member, upon his re-election as speaker on 16 Nov. 1802. ‘Nothing could be more appropriate than his language,’ writes Wilberforce (Life, iii. 73). In 1803 he brought in the Curates Bill, which was thrown out in the House of Lords at the end of the session (Colchester, Diary, i. 575). With his Clergy Residence Bill he was more successful. Under the sanction of the government he introduced it on 6 April, and it received the royal assent on 7 July (Pellew, Life of Lord Sidmouth, ii. 189). In 1804 he reintroduced the Curates Bill, but too late to pass it, and in 1805 feared to bring it in again, as he thought his university hostile to it. Subsequently it passed as an ‘Act to amend the 21 Henry VIII as to Pluralities of Livings,’ and was the basis of the broader act passed by Lord Harrowby. But in the main Scott was a steady opponent of reform. On 25 May 1810 he declared himself opposed to any concession to the claims of the Roman catholics (Hansard, xvii. 183). On 23 Jan. 1812 there was a long debate on excommunications by process from the ecclesiastical court, in which his speech in their favour was so strenuously and successfully replied to by Romilly and others that he was obliged to promise to bring in a bill for their abolition, a promise which he fulfilled in July 1813, but ‘very reluctantly, for he had little taste for reform’ (Romilly, Memoirs, iii. 6); the bill passed as 53 George III, c. 127. Martin's bill for regulating the office of registrar in admiralty was so altered by his amendments that its supporters would have preferred that it should not pass at all. He opposed the Chapel Exemptions Bill in 1815 as being a relief of dissenters, and in 1817 and 1818 resisted Curwen's Tithes Bill. ‘Scott,’ writes Romilly (Memoirs, iii. 330), ‘who, as member for the university of Oxford, conceives himself bound to watch with great jealousy every innovation with respect to ecclesiastical property, expressed great doubt about the bill.’ His last prominent appearance in the House of Commons was at the opening of the session of 1820, when he moved the speaker, Manners-Sutton, into the chair. Though his friends had long expected a peerage for him, it was not till 1821 that he received it; when, on the occasion of the coronation of George IV, and by patent dated 17 July 1821, he was created a baron with the title of Stowell of Stowell Park, an estate which he had bought in Gloucestershire. He took his seat on 5 Feb. 1822. His appearances in the House of Lords after his elevation to the peerage were rare, though on ecclesiastical questions his opinion was much deferred to. In 1823 he moved for a committee to inquire into the state of the marriage laws, but hardly appears otherwise to have taken part in debate.
On 14 Aug. 1820 he resigned his office in the consistorial court. His last decision in that court was Ruding v. Smith (2 Haggard, Consistory Reports, 371); but he clung tenaciously to his judgeship in the admiralty court, though he had been tempted to resign it in 1808, when, on Sir William Wynne's retirement, he received, and, on Eldon's advice, refused, the offer of the more dignified but less lucrative office of dean of the arches. His faculties had begun to fail, more perhaps outwardly than in reality. Loss of sight and weakness of voice obliged him to employ Sir C. Robinson, and afterwards Dr. Dodson, to read his judgments for him. One of his judgments was given in the celebrated case of the slave Grace, 26 Sept. 1827 (Moore, Memoirs, vi. 156). At length, on 22 Feb. 1828, old age compelled him to resign. Sir Walter Scott writes, 24 May 1828: ‘Met my old and much-esteemed friend, Lord Stowell, looking very frail and even comatose. Quantum mutatus! He was one of the pleasantest men I ever knew’ (Lockhart, Life of Scott, vii. 135). For the rest of his life he lived principally at Earley Court, Berkshire, which he occupied in right of his first wife. Lord and Lady Sidmouth, his son-in-law and daughter, resided there with him during great part of the year, and Lord Eldon was a constant visitor. Down to April 1833 he was in communication with Lord Eldon about public affairs, but after that his mind gave way. He was never made aware of the death of his son in November 1835, and though his will, which he made himself on 30 April 1830, made no provision for the event of his surviving his son, his daughter felt it to be useless to endeavour to bring him to make arrangements adapted to the altered circumstances. He died at Earley Court in the afternoon of 28 Jan. 1836, and was buried at Sonning, near Reading. His personalty was sworn under 230,000l., and he left besides landed estates producing 12,000l. per annum.
Scott married, on 7 April 1781, Anna Maria, eldest daughter of John Bagnall of Earley Court, Berkshire, by whom he had four children; only two grew up: William, who was M.P. for Gatton from 1826 to 1830, and died of intemperance on 26 Nov. 1835 (Gent. Mag. 1836, i. 99); and Mary Anne, who married first, in 1809, Colonel Thomas Townsend of Honington, Warwickshire, and secondly, in 1823, the first Viscount Sidmouth. His first wife died on 4 Sept. 1809, during his absence on a visit to the Duke of Atholl in Scotland. He became acquainted with his second wife, Louisa Catherine, a daughter of Admiral Earl Howe, widow of John, first marquis of Sligo, whom he married 10 April 1813, through having to pass sentence on 16 Dec. 1812, as presiding judge of the admiralty sessions at the Old Bailey, upon her son, the second marquis, for enticing two seamen to desert from a man-of-war at Malta and join the crew of his yacht. The story that Lady Sligo made the first advances for a marriage in the ‘New Monthly Magazine’ for January 1846 is ill-founded, but the acquaintance of Sir William Scott and Lady Sligo certainly arose from this trial. The match was discountenanced by Lord Eldon, and was ill-assorted from the first. Scott was parsimonious and convivial, Lady Sligo domestic and open-handed. They lived unhappily, first at her house in Grafton Street, which was settled on Scott for life, and to which he removed from 5 College Square, Doctors' Commons, where he had lived over thirty years, and afterwards in Cleveland Row, but they soon informally separated, and on 26 Aug. 1817 she died, having borne him no children.
In person Scott was below the middle height, fair-haired, corpulent in his later years, of a benign expression of face, and, though slovenly in dress, very courteous and polished in manner. There is a portrait of him, painted in 1812 for the Newcastle guildhall, and engraved in Twiss's ‘Life of Eldon,’ vol. ii. His constitution was feeble in his early years; he was always a great eater and drinker, a ‘two-bottle man’ (Boswell's Johnson, ed. 1835, viii. 67), and a bon vivant. His brother said of him ‘he will drink any given quantity of port.’ Despite his excesses his bodily health remained good till he was nearly ninety. All his life he was a saving man; the phrase ‘the elegant simplicity of the three per cents’ is his, and many stories were told of his niggardliness. Yet all his life, as ‘Dr. Scott of the Commons’ and as a judge, he was welcome in the best society of his time; he was a wit and a scholar, and, as a speaker, master of a cold, polished eloquence.
As a judge he stands in the front rank with Hale and Mansfield, and his services to maritime and international law are unsurpassed. His decisions are reported in the reports of Christopher Robinson (1798–1808), Edwards (1808–12), Dodson (1815–1822), and Haggard (1789–1821). Before Scott's time no reports of the decisions of the admiralty court had been published. He was thus little fettered by the judgments of his predecessors, and was free to be guided by the writers on Roman, canon, and international law, and by the historical material with which his own reading had made him familiar. At the same time the circumstances of the French wars poured into his court for decision the fullest and most varied series of cases in maritime law that has ever occurred. He thus enjoyed the greatest opportunity of giving unity and consistency to a whole department of English law, and for a generation he was rather a lawgiver than a judge in the ordinary sense of the term. Upon many maritime points his judgments are still the only law; and, little popular as they were at the moment among the Americans, who often suffered by them, they have been accepted by the United States courts also as authoritative (see Life of Judge Story, i. 554). ‘There has seldom,’ says Lord Brougham (‘Statesmen of the Time of George III,’ Works, ed. 1872, iv. 67), ‘if ever, appeared in the profession of the law any one so peculiarly endowed with all the learning and capacity which can accomplish, as well as all the graces which can embellish, the judicial character. … His judgment was of the highest cast; calm, firm, enlarged, penetrating, profound. His powers of reasoning were in proportion great, and still more refined than extensive. … If ever the praise of being luminous could be bestowed upon human composition, it was upon his judgments, and it was the approbation constantly, and as it were peculiarly, appropriated to those wonderful exhibitions of judicial capacity.’
The British Museum Catalogue wrongly attributes to him ‘The Essence of Algernon Sydney's work on Government, by a Student of the Inner Temple,’ 1795, but he is said to have written ‘Observations by Civis,’ 1811, and ‘Letters on the Bullion Committee,’ (anon.) 1812.[In addition to authorities given above, see Dr. W. E. Surtees's Lives of Lords Stowell and Eldon, 1846, reprinted with corrections from Colburn's New Monthly Magazine, vols. lxxiv., lxxv. lxxvi.; Twiss's Life of Eldon; Townsend's Life of Lord Stowell in Lives of Twelve Irish Eminent Judges, reprinted from Law Magazine, xvi. 23; Gent. Mag. 1836, i. 427; Quarterly Review, xxv. 46 (probably by Talfourd). Scott's most important admiralty judgments—the Maria 1799, and the Gratitudine, 1801—are to be found in Robinson's Reports; a separate report of his greatest matrimonial case (Dalrymple v. Dalrymple) was published by Dr. J. Dodson in 1811; in 1857 a collection of these judgments was published by Clark of Edinburgh. His judgment in the case of ‘The mongrel woman Grace’ is given in the New State Trials, ii. 273, and was published separately from his notes by Dr. Haggard in 1827. He kept a diary ‘of considerable interest’ (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iv. 292), which has not been printed.]