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sixty years beyond which the law barred any such pretension, and by a poor unknown mariner! The strange novelty of the case excited interest, and enlisted on the side of the claimant, a host of eager allies, who enabled him to carry on the process of litigation for several years, till at last the solemn appeal was made to this ancient form of trial, which afforded for such arduous attempts peculiar facilities : and in the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster was the “ Grand Assize' to be held. Throngs of spectators flocked to behold the curious contest; and, as though to do honour to the obsequies of this antique vestige of the olden time, there was an almost unparalleled array of legal talent engaged in the struggle, and a spectacle of intellectual championship never surpassed. There were to advocate the tenant's right, the authority, the learning, the experience of the AttorneyGeneral—the boldness, sagacity, and dexterity of Wilde—the acuteness and lynx-eyed vigilance of Kelly; and to support the demandant's claim were the persuasive eloquence of Talfourd, and the varied and splendid abilities of that fine model of an English advocate—“in. himself a host”-Sir William Follett. What mind could be so dull as not then to cast a retrospective glance over the lapse of gone-by centuries ?—with a slight effort of the imagination to picture-on that very spot perhaps, some five hundred years back the crowded lists, surrounded by curious spectators of the fierce encounters by which the “right" was then decided ; and contrasting with them the eager listeners to this illustrious combat of superior minds, reflect for a moment on the strange alteration which time had worked in the nation's character. Appropriately, too, were the champions selected,- for who better fitted to defend a long-established and remotely-resting possession, than Sir John Campbell's steady, cautious perseverance, his dogged, immoveable tenacity, his grasp of memory, and reach of foresight? Where could be found a more trying test to the validity of a new and complicated claim, than Kelly's never-sleeping watchfulness; and on points of legal practice, what so formidable to an antagonist as the severe scrutiny and eager energy of Wilde? While, on the other hand, could a poor and obscure claimant have a more attractive, a more prepossessing, a more seductive advocacy, than the ready rhetoric and mellifluous oratory of the author of “ Ion ?” or could he secure, in the person of one man, so powerful a combination of qualities, valuable in a pleader, as Sir William Follett's depth of legal research, his astute and penetrating intellect, his artfully woven and closely connected reasoning, his skiil in the eliciting or sifting of evidence, and his imposing dignity of manner?
For the case of the tenant, deeds and other unquestionable documents were put in, which clearly traced the history of the estate, from the first owner, a learned Sergeant of the law, in the reign of Charles II. to his grandson, who, not knowing his heir-at-law, bequeathed it to a friend, on condition of the heir being allowed to claim it whenever he should appear. The heir did not appear; and the lineal descendant of the legatee now held the estate.
Every one looked with intense anxiety for the demandant's case, curious to hear how through the long lapse of years he could trace his connexion with the original possessor. His case was opened by Tal
fourd, who, in those musical tones in which he pours forth the enthusiastic poetry of his eloquence, first “ paid the passing tribute of a sigh" to the memory of that ancient relic of the old English jurisprudence which had ruthlessly been consigned to destruction, and having skilfully employed the charm, which none could more beautifully raise from the recollections that hung around this ancient and venerable form of trial—to create a kind of prepossessing sympathy in favour of his client, who was last to have recourse to it; he proceeded to detail the intricate and lengthened genealogy;—from his lips winding smoothly and pleasingly along,-whereby the claimant's ancestry was traced up to a time contemporaneous with the original owner's possession of the estate—then carried in the ascending line, till it reached the common forefathers of both, among the obscure shepherds of North Wales,and lastly descended to the founder of the disputed inheritance.
Numerous were the links required to fill up this long and complicated chain of ancestry, the absence of any one of which would ve broken the connexion, and of course destroyed the efficiency of the whole. Never was the slow progress of legal demonstration watched with keener vigilance, or subjected to severer scrutiny. There were aged, but hale and hearty men, venerable grey-haired patriarchs, who had been brought from the rural retirement of a century, to tax their feeble memories for incidents which by-gone generations had witnessed. And there were deeds ransacked from dusty receptacles of ancient records almost illegible from antiquity; and there were parish registers—“the short and simple annals of the poor”-eagerly sought after, and joyfully discovered amidst the long-undisturbed memorials of village churches; and many, too, of those interminable pedigrees whereon the tenacious “pride of birth” (so characteristic of the ancient Britons) delights to track out and to emblazon an illustrious descent-through the Lloyds and Llewellyns of many generations, by means of the faint glimmering of traditionary light, or the scattered scraps of imperfect information-sedulously gleaned from forgotten monuments or obscure inscriptions-even from periods where the fabulous mingles with and veils the historical. Innumerable were the objections which forensic acuteness started to the admission of particular evidence, and many were the points of law raised and argued on both sides with most persevering pertinacity. And it was not till the
stars had appeared on the evening of the second day of protracted investigation, that there was constructed, from such multifarious sources, and despite such constant obstructions, a foundation on which to base the demandant's claim.
But then did the counsel of the tenant resolve to strike a sudden and fatal blow at one of the principal links in the lengthened chain of genealogical evidence ; and they impeached the credibility of the most important of those silent testimonials which had been gathered from the muniments of a remote hamlet, bringing forward witnesses who declared a deed on which hung the whole line of ancestral descent to have been forged.
Now was the time for the display of those high and varied abilities which are essential in a leading counsel, and of which Sir William Follett presents the finest living combination. These are the moments
May, 1840.--VOL. 1.—NO. V.
in which genius is tested, the crises in which battles, or causes, are lost and won on the decision, the skill, the energy of a single effort. We purposely coupled terms legal and warlike; for we believe the comparison is the fittest that could be made, to set in the true light the high nature of those attributes which form a perfect advocate ; and the glorious fields which are open for their exercise. Loudly are his praises sung, who like Napoleon could win a battle on the impulse of an instant : and certainly, when the clash and clamour of warfare, and the thunder of cannon, and the roar of musketry, and all those fearful elements of excitement which mingle in wild confusion on a battle-field, are considered,—his must be a great mind which can, amidst it all, decide with calmness immovable, and act with skill and energy irresistible. Yet who that attentively considers the arena on which the contests of an English advocate take place, will not confess that moments must often arise when his genius is put to a still severer trial, and when that genius must be of a still nobler order ? Moments like the present, for example when Sir William, in the course of a few minutes, found the whole weight of the cause, and the valuable interests and the intense anxiety which hung upon it-trembling in the balance already declining fearfully against him; and that on the next movement which he made, depended whether that weight should finally be lost to him, or turned triumphantly in his favour. Mere hardihood, or, to use the highest term, mere courage, may suffice to give an inferior mind self-possession enough upon the battle-field to decide calmly :—we wish not to derogate from the skill displayed by a general in thus momentarily coming to a decision which gives victory into his grasp; but at the utmost it is but the triumph of mind over force, often aided by the veriest accidents, and far inferior to the infinitely more arduous victory of mind over minda victory gained on far more equal terms, a victory achieved in a contest between master intellects. Such is the triumph of the advocate, who, over and above those varied and difficult acquirements which all of his order, to be anything, must possess, has a grasp and range of genius in which he finds a resource in emergencies the most unexpected and most perilous, by which,—when beset on every side by intellects fully his equals, perhaps in particular attainments his superiors, he is able to meet and vanquish them in the mental encounter,—from which, in circumstances the most perplexing and trying, he is enabled to preserve unimpaired the acuteness and clearness of his perceptions, the correctness and soundness of his judgment, the promptitude and skill of his maneuvres, and through which, in moments when a trial, on which hang property, liberty, life, age, and that which is far paramount to all, because it may involve all — principle-grand, vital, public principle-depends solely on the risking of a certain question, or the parrying of a single answer,—instantaneously strikes out the course to an illustrious victory in which perhaps the liberties of his country may be established.
In a moment equally perilous for the interests involved, did Sir William Follett rise on the present occasion, with the perfect consciousness that in all human probability his cross-examination of the witnesses produced by the other side in reply, would decide the fate of his persevering and hitherto unsuccessful client. Yet along with this sense of responsibility, there was upon his brow a calm confidence in "superior" powers of intellect, and a gathering of them up to a certain though a hard-fought triumph. The witness, a gentleman of talents and education, was first engaged in a series of searching and scrutinizing questions, on the grounds for the judgment he had so confidently given as to the forgery of the will. He was then drawn into a close contest with his acute antagonist on all those nice shades of probability and inference, and those numerous components to belief, which evidence as to mere opinion or judgment is naturally subject to; and here the advocate speedily manifested the vast superiority of his powerful and well-disciplined mind : the witness, overwhelmed by his subtle interrogatories, lost his self-possession, and committed himself to a positive assertion, that a certain qualification which he knew to be wanting in the will referred to, was an essential evidence of authenticity in a document professing to be of the specified period. Again entrapped into bewildering discussions, he was suddenly, when his attention had been sufficiently diverted, led to admit that a certain deed was genuine, which was found to want the qualification in question: it was instantly exhibited by Sir William with a proud smile of exultation, and never was the effect of hostile testimony more effectually and triumphantly destroyed.
The music of Talfourd's fascinating oratory again was heard in all its melody, and in rich and fervid strains, excited by the strange and stirring interest that now was thrown over the cause, and delighted to find in the singular and antiquated testimonies on which his client's claim had rested, a theme to which he could not fail to respond; the sweetest and most thrilling tone of an eloquence always kindled to enthusiasm by aught that brought along with it the poetry of the past ; he strove to weave around these weak and time-worn evidences, the rich veil of an enchantment that might hide their feebleness, and long and earnestly pleaded on their behalf, in the hope that he might thereby counteract the cold sarcasms which already had been liberally thrown out, and which he knew would, in the closing reply of the Attorney-General, be carefully and chillingly uttered against “ Welsh pedigrees” and “mouldering monuments.
The sun rose next morning on the third and last day of this rare struggle, and for five hours did Sir John Campbell labour with that untiring and plodding perseverance, that unwearied and wearying industry, and that inflexible and indurated gravity, for which he is so remarkable, accumulating every fact, every argument, every inference, every supposition, which memory or sagacity could suggest in favour of his cause.
Then came the summing up. And it was a splendid study of judicial intellect. The Judge was the Lord Chief Justice Tindal,—of all others the fittest to preside on such an occasion : in his calm, tranquil, thoughtful countenance, old English heartiness, and unfashionable ruggedness of appearance, we seem to behold the very impersonation of venerable black-letter law, and cannot avoid thinking of Fortescue, and Hale, and Littleton. He, without the delay of a single second, proceeded to cașt upon the accumulation of three days' minute and intricate investigation, the light of a clear and vigorous understanding; and it was marvellous to observe how plain and palpable a path it tracked out for itself, through the vast labyrinth of contradictory testimonies, how quietly it threw out of its way all those legal perplexities which forensic sophistry had started, how unerringly it darted upon the point where the secret of the case really lay, and how accurately it detected
flaw in the rival claims, how easily it cast aside the great body of irrelevant matter which served but to darken and cloud the subject; how lucidly it arranged the few simple questions to which the minds of the “Knights Recognitors” were to be applied, and how powerfully and impartially it brought to bear upon them the collected force of all those disconnected particles of important evidence, which in the progress of the case had been elicited.
A few moments elapsed ere the “Knights” returned the verdict
“ That the tenant had the more right to hold the lands in question."
We have too much respect for English juries to say how far the prejudices of country land-owners, in favour of a long undisturbed possession, might not have influenced their verdict.
W. F. C.