1857 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Gibson Lockhart

Samuel Griswold Goodrich, in Recollections of a Lifetime (1857) 2:171-74.



The very day after delivering my letters, Mr. Y.... called on me, and showed me the lions of the town. Many of them, all indeed, were interesting, but I pass them by, and shall only linger a short time at the Court of Sessions, which is the supreme civil court of Scotland. This, with the High Court of Justitiary — the supreme criminal court — forms the College of Justice, and constitutes the supreme judicial system of Scotland. Their sessions are held in the old Parliament House, situated in the center of the Old Town.

We entered a large Gothic hall, opening, as I observed, into various contiguous apartments. Here I saw a considerable number of persons, mostly lawyers and their clients — some sauntering, some meditating — some gathered in groups and conversing together. I noticed that many of the former, and more especially the older members of the bar, wore gowns and wigs; others wore gowns only, and still others were in the ordinary dress. I afterward was told that it was wholly at the option of individuals to adopt this costume, or not; in general, it was regarded as going out of fashion. There was a large number of people distributed through the several apartments, and in the grand hall there was a pervading hum of voices which seemed to rise and rumble and die away amid the groinings of the roof above.

Among the persons in this hall, a man some thirty years of age, tall and handsome, dressed in a gown but without the wig, attracted my particular attention. He was walking apart, and there was a certain look of coldness and haughtiness about him. Nevertheless, for some undefinable reason, he excited in me a lively curiosity. I observed that his eye was dark and keen, his hair nearly black, and though cut short, slightly curled. He carried his head erect, its largely developed corners behind, giving him an air of self-appreciation. His features were small, but sharply defined; his lips were close, and slightly disdainful and sarcastic in their expression.

There was a striking combination of energy and elegance in the general aspect of this person; yet over all, I must repeat, there was something also of coldness and pride. Upon his face, expressive of vigor and activity — mental and physical — there was a visible tinge of discontent.

"Who is that gentleman?" said I, to my guide.

"That large, noble-looking person, with a gown and wig? That is Cranstoun, one of our first lawyers, and the brother-in-law of Dugald Stuart."

"No: that person beyond and to the left? He is without a wig."

"Oh, that's Cockburn — a fiery whig, and one of the keenest fellows we have at the bar."

"Yes: but I mean that younger person, near the corner."

"Oh, that small, red-faced, freckled man? Why that's Moncrief — a very sound lawyer. His father, Sir Harry Moncrief, is one of the most celebrated divines in Scotland."

"No, no: it is that tall, handsome, proud-looking person, walking by himself.

"Oh, I see: that's Lockhart — Sir Walter Scott's son-in-law. Would you like to know him?"

"Yes."

And so I was introduced to a man who, at that time, was hardly less an object of interest to me than Scott himself. Though a lawyer by profession, he had devoted himself to literature, and was now in the very height of his career. "Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk," "Valerius," and other works, had given him a prominent rank as a man of talent; and besides, in 1820, he had married the eldest daughter of the "Great Unknown." My conversation with him was brief at this time, but I afterward became well acquainted with him.