Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
By John Gibson Lockhart (17941854)
From Peters Letters
THERE is still, however, one judge upon the bench whom W has a pleasure in bidding me look at, because in him, he assures me, may still be seen a genuine relic of the old school of Scottish lawyers and Scottish judges. This old gentleman, who takes his title from an estate called Hermand, is of the Ayrshire family of the Fergusons of Kilkerran; the same family of which mention is frequently made in Burnss poems, one of whose ancestors, indeed, was the original winner of the celebrated Whistle of Worth, about which the famous song was written
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Three joyous good fellows, with hearts clear of flaw;
He is now, I suppose, with one exception, the senior judge of the whole Court, for I see he sits immediately on the left hand of the President of the First Division. There is something so very striking in his appearance, that I wonder I did not take notice of it in an earlier letter. His face is quite thin and extenuated, and he has lost most of his teeth; but instead of taking away from the vivacity of his countenance, these very circumstances seem to me to have given it a degree of power and fire of expression, which I have very rarely seen rivalled in the countenance of any young man whatever. The absence of the teeth has planted lines of furrows about the lower part of his face, which convey an idea of determination and penetration, too, that is not to be resisted; and the thin covering of flesh upon the bones of his cheeks only gives effect to the fine, fresh, and healthful complexion which these still exhibit. As for his eyes, they are among the most powerful I have seen. While in a musing attitude, he keeps his eyelids well over them, and they peep out with a swimming sort of languor; but the moment he begins to speak, they dilate and become full of animation, each grey iris flashing as keenly as a flint. His forehead is full of wrinkles, and his eyebrows are luxuriant; and his voice has a hollow depth of tone about it, which all furnish a fine relief to the hot and choleric style in which he expresses himself, and, indeed, to the very lively way in which he seems to regard every circumstance of every case that is brought before him. Although very hasty and impatient at times in his temper and demeanour, and not over scrupulous in regard to the limits of some of his sarcasms, this old judge is a prodigious favourite with all classes who frequent the courts, and above all with the advocates, at whose expense most of his spleen effervesces. He is a capital lawyer, and he is the very soul of honour; and the goodness of his warm heart is so well understood, that not only is no offence taken with anything he says, but every new sarcasm he utters endears him more, even to the sufferer. As for the younger members of the professionwhen he goes a circuit, you may be sure, in whatever direction he moves, to meet with an extraordinary array of them in the train of Lord Hermand. His innocent peculiarities of manner afford an agreeable diversity to the surface of the causes carried on under his auspices, while the shrewdness and diligence of his intellect completely provide for the safety of their essential merits. And then, when the business of the Court is over, he is the very prince of good fellows and king of old men; and you are well aware what high delight all young men take in the company of their seniors, when these are pleased to enter, bonâ fide, into the spirit of their convivialities. He has an infinite fund of dry, caustic, original humour; and, in addition to this, he cannot fail to possess an endless store of anecdotes; so that it is no wonder his company should be so fascinating to the young jurisconsults. In him they are no doubt too happy to have an opportunity of seeing a noble living specimen of a very fine old school, which has now left little behind it but the tradition of its virtues and its talents and its pleasantriesa school, the departure of many of whose peculiarities was perhaps rendered necessary in a great measure by the spirit of the age, but of which it may be suspected not a little has been allowed to expire, which might have been better worth preserving than much that has come in its place. It is not, I assure you, from W alone that I hear lamentations over the decay of this antique spirit. It is sighed over by many that witnessed its manifestations ere they had yet come to be rare, and will long be remembered with perhaps still greater affection by those who have seen the last of its relics in the person of this accomplished gentleman and excellent judge.