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MEMOIRS OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.

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of Gray's Inn, His youth was abandoned to license in company with such reprobates, that he recognized one of them, when judge, in a prisoner convicted before him of felony. On visiting the culprit in gaol, and inquiring the fate of certain of their intimates at Oriel College, he is said to have received for answerAh! my Lord! they are all hanged but myself and your Lordship." Casting aside the sins of his youth, he applied himself with successful industry to the practice of law, and, amid sore temptation, preserved his integrity untarnished.

When the mighty change had passed over all the institutions of the land, Serjeant Holt was one of the eminent lawyers selected as legal assessors to the Lords, in the room of the Judges whose official functions had ended with the flight of their misguided sovereign, and whose character commanded no respect. He was elected for Beeralston, in the place of the veteran Serjeant Maynard, who had been returned also, and made his election to sit for Plymouth. He argued for the word “ abdication,” suggesting a dangerous proposition, that the Government acted under a trust, and that any acting contrary to it was a renouncing of the trust. The throne had been filled for several weeks before the Bench was new-modelled. Every Privy Councillor was directed to bring a list of twelve lawyers, whom he considered best fitted, by learning and integrity, to fill the vacant seats; and, from a comparison of these lists, the twelve judges were nominated. The first was Sir John Holt, then in his 47th year, appointed, accordingly, Chief Justice of England. In defence of the constitution, he successfully resisted both the Lords and Commons. The • Law Magazine.

judgment on the case of the Aylesbury burgess, in which, contrary to the opinion of the three puisné judges, he asserted the rights of an elector to claim damages at law against the returning officer who refused to record his vote, was solemnly affirmed in the House of Lords, and deserves praise for its masculine and independent tone.

“ The Parliament cannot judge of this case, nor give damage to the plaintiff for it; they cannot make him a recompense. Let all people come in and vote fairly; it is to support one or the other party to deny any man his vote. By my consent, if such an action comes to be tried before me, I will direct the jury to make him pay well for it; it is denying him his English right, and if this action be not allowed, a man may for ever be deprived of it. It is a great privilege to choose such persons as are to bind a man's life and property by the laws they make."

Upon this noble judgment has been framed an ingenious fable, which has floated down the traditional anecdotes of the last century. The Speaker, we are told, came in person, his serjeant having been repulsed, to summon the audacious Chief Justice, to appear at the bar of the House, to purge himself of a contempt. “Go back to your chair, Mr. Speaker," thundered Sir John Holt, “ within these five minutes, or you may depend upon it I will send you to Newgate. You speak of your authority; but I tell you, that I sit here as an interpreter of the laws, and a distributer of justice, and, were the whole House of Commons in your belly, I would not stir one foot." We grieve to pronounce this honest John Bull speech a pure invention. Not a hint of such an occurrence is to be traced in any

Grainger, Biographia Britannica, &c.

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of the King's Bench reports—not a word of the Chief Justice is to be found in the Journals of the Commons. The scene was well imagined ; for, could the Speaker have been made to troop to the Queen's Bench-the main difficulty—the words put into the mouth of the Judge were probably those that would have been spoken.

The same independent fearlessness with which the Chief Justice had braved the displeasure of the Commons he displayed on a later occasion, in defence of the rights of his order against the encroachments of the Lords. Having allowed the Earl of Banbury, when indicted for manslaughter, to claim a trial by his peers, the Lords, who disputed his right to the peerage, summoned Sir John Holt before them, and demanded the reasons for his decision. His firm refusal and the subsequent proceedings are thus reported in Vernon's Letters.

“ The House of Lords sat till near six, upon the business of my Lord Chief Justice and Judge Eyre, who kept to their point, not to inform the House, any more than they did the Committee, of the reasons for their judgment in the Earl of Banbury's case, but stood upon it that they were at liberty not to answer in a matter that he charged upon them : nobody being bound to accuse himself, or furnish an accusation to his prejudice. If the judgments they gave shewed a weakness in them, it might be a reason to the King for displacing them ; or, if they were guilty of corruption, there was another way of providing against them; and, if their judgments were disliked, they might be reversed by writ of error. could not submit to be schooled and catechised for all that they delivered upon the Bench, where they

But they were entrusted with the execution of the laws and the dispensing of justice, and acted upon their oaths. It was once or twice moved that they should withdraw, but the question was diverted, and at last it was carried to adjourn the debate and the House till Monday. It is uncertain yet what the event will be, though it is supposed, the matter can't be carried to extremity, though my Lord Normanby and Lord Rochester would push it. All concluded, if they should be sent to the Tower, it must end the sessions too, since the House of Commons would not bear it. I writ the purport of this letter in my Lord Chief Justice's chamber, waiting for his return from Westminster Hall, to speak with him about the unlucky business that is to come on again upon Monday. He thinks himself in the right not to satisfy the Lords in the reasons for his judgments, and they expected to be treated with more deference. I understand my Lord Lonsdale was as violent against him as either Lord Rochester or Lord Normanby; he is very in- . different what resolutions they take, and thinks he has been so ill used already that he is weary of the place.”

The Chief Justice retired unmolested to his court, for all respected, if they did not dread, that manly fearlessness and judicial independence of spirit, that self-assured feeling, that grasp and vigour of intellect, which none who ever sat on the Bench, unless it were Lord Thurlow, displayed with more energy, united with a stedfast political integrity to which that judge was a stranger.

His correction of libellers was prompt and dignified. Soon after the report of Cooke's trial before him, the following apology appeared in the Gazette",

London Gazette for 1717.

“ Whereas, in page 34 of the late trial for high treason, there are inserted these words, as spoken by Chief Justice Holt: There is a levying war without treason, not aiming at the death of the king;' which words were not spoken by the Chief Justice, nor any to that purpose, but the same are contrary to law, the publisher makes his humble submission, and promises to rectify the same.” Aylmer, the printer, made afterwards, at the Guildhall, a further submission to his lordship.

His love of truth sometimes flashed forth from the Bench in questions of startling emphasis. A person was convicted before him in 1704, as a common cheat, for pretending to be bewitched by a poor woman, and compelled to be without food for ten weeks. One of his witnesses, Dr. Hamilton, was asked by the Chief Justice, " Do you think it is possible in nature for a man to fast a fortnight ?" To this the doctor could not but reply in the negative, and was then pressed with a more home inquiry :“ Can all the devils in hell help him to fast so long?”

Truly, my lord,” replied the witness, with the proper degree of medical caution," I think not.”

February 9, 1709-10, was the last day the Chief Justice sat in court: he lingered till the 5th March, when he expired, universally honoured and deplored. His brother and heir erected over his grave, at a cost of £1500, a magnificent monument of white marble, which represents him seated in his judicial robes, under a canopy of state, with emblematical figures of Justice and Mercy on either side.

We pass on to the memorial of another celebrated lawyer, more eloquent than Holt, but not so honest.

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