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tinued to persevere in the performance of his professional duties, labouring patiently and assiduously, and preparing himself for the fit discharge of any responsibility that might devolve upon him. He attended the courts of law at Westminster, and went on the Midland circuit with exemplary regularity. He contrived in some measure to overcome his diffidence, and to acquire a greater degree of self-possession. By degrees it began to be known that his knowledge of law was sound and extensive, his judgment accurate, his perception rapid and exact; solicitors saw in him a man to be trusted; and in 1791 his practice as junior counsel was very considerable. In society he had established a reputation for grace of manner and charm of conversation which made him a welcome guest in the most distinguished circles, and the Marquis of Lansdowne, no mean judge of character, delighted in his company.
In 1797 he began to be employed as a leader, and in several important cases his success confirmed and extended his reputation. In 1800 he was appointed one of His Majesty's counsel, and thenceforth took a prominent position in the Court of Chancery. Having secured a moderate independence, he felt himself at liberty to seek a wider and nobler field of exercise than his profession in itself could offer, and waited only for an opening to enter upon that public life to which his hopes and aspirations had always pointed. His political views were those of the Whig party, but he was incapable of becoming a vehement or narrow partisan ; his intellect was too philosophical, his judgment too impartial, his views of public duty too broad and lofty. Hence he desired to enter Parliament unshackled by promises. In 1805—the same year in which the Bishop of Durham appointed him his
Chancellor-he was offered a seat in the House of Commons by the Prince of Wales, but he respectfully declined. In the following year, in Mr. Fox's ministry, he was appointed Solicitor-General, and was immediately returned to Parliament as member for Queenborough. He was sworn in on the 12th of March, and, according to custom, knighted. Thus favourably, at the age of forty, did he enter upon his public career.
A few days after taking his seat in the House, Sir Samuel was appointed one of the managers in the impeachment of Lord Melville for peculation and jobbery during his tenure of office as First Lord of the Admiralty ; and a duty which was not less disagreeable than onerous hedischarged with great ability and scrupulous impartiality. On the 10th of May he summed up the case for the prosecution in a luminous and effective speech which lasted three hours and twenty minutes.
The philanthropical bias of his mind was shown in the warmth and eloquence with wbich he attacked the slave trade, in support of Mr. Fox's motion for its abolition. He tells us that he did not attempt to argue the question, whether the slave trade should be abolished; this he took as long ago decided ; his object was to impress on the House a sense of the “reproachful situation” in which England stood with respect to this subject. Fifteen years before it had had the courage to inquire minutely into the subject, and had ascertained, by a
mass of evidence which had been carefully sifted and recorded, that the trade was carried on by “robbery, rapine, and murder.” And yet, with the full knowledge of this fact, it had persisted in the inhuman traffic, and dragged from the coasts of Africa no fewer than 360,000 human beings.
At the time of Romilly's entering upon public life, the English law was an Augean stable, offering ample work to any reforming Hercules who would undertake its cleansing. Romilly was anxious to do something in this direction ; but, aware of the small result that is ever to be obtained from a general attack, he wisely resolved to bring his efforts to bear upon some particular abuse. The bias of his mind and the natural benevolence of his disposition led him to select, as the field in which he might hope to employ his energies most advantageously, the amelioration of our criminal code. To this his attention had early been directed, and he was painfully aware of the urgent necessity for prompt and efficient action. The criminal code, as it then existed, was more than Draconian in its severity; it was written in blood; almost every clause ended in “death." Crimes and offences, ranging from the nadir to the zenith of enormity, met with the same penalty ; a man was hung for murder, and he might be hung for stealing five shillings. Such rigour was as impolitic as it was inhuman, not alone from its ill effect upon the criminal classes, whom it only hardened and exasperated, but from its influence upon juries, whom it not unnaturally deterred from pronouncing verdicts which carried with them the possibility of so awful a penalty.
Mr. Roscoe remarks that it has been sometimes objected to Romilly that he did not apply himself to the correction of the abuses which then discredited the administration of justice in his own court, the Court of Chancery; and he adds that it ought surely never to be regretted that he preferred the noble labour of reforming a code, the excessive severity of which had for centuries disgraced the institutions of our country. The former, at the worst, struck only at men's property ; the latter, at men's lives.
“ That portion of the community which is affected by our civil polity are never without the means of making their complaints heard ; but the poor, the destitute, the uninformed, and the misled, the objects upon whom our criminal jurisprudence operates, have no voice to protest against the severities which the Legislature may please to denounce. To watch over the interests of this wretched and degraded portion of society; to become the friend of those against whom every other hand was raised, and the protector of those who were abandoned, even by themselves, seemed to Sir Samuel Romilly a duty which claimed a decided pre-eminence."
It was a duty undertaken and carried out in the true spirit of that religion of humanity which was consecrated on Calvary by the blood of our Lord.
Romilly opened bis protracted warfare on the 18th of May, 1808. In the previous year he had retired from office, on the fall of the Whig administration; and it was as a private member that he invited Parliament to repeal the Act of Queen Elizabeth which inflicted the punishment of death for privately stealing from the person to the extent of five shillings—in other words, for picking pockets ! Even so obviously humane a measure met with vehement opposition. Romilly relates that a young man, the brother of a peer of the realm, came up to him at the bar of the House of Commons, and, breathing in his face “the nauseous fumes of his undigested debauch,” stammered out, “I am against your bill; I am for hanging all.” Romilly stood confounded; but, with his usual generosity, endeavouring to find some excuse for the brutal speech, observed that he supposed his interlocutor meant that the certainty of punishment affording the only prospect of suppressing crimes, the laws, whatever they were, ought to be executed. Over this golden bridge the young man had no wish to retreat; and he replied : “No, no; it is not that. There is no good done by mercy; they only get worse. I would hang them all up at once.”
Eventually the bill was passed; but Romilly was forced to strike out the declaration of principle embodied in the preamble : “Whereas, the extreme severity of penal law hath not been found effectual for the prevention of crimes, but, on the contrary, by increasing the difficulty of convicting offenders, in some cases affords them impunity, and in most cases renders their punishment extremely uncertain."
His next legislation was in amendment of the Bankruptcy Law; and then, in 1810, he resumed his attack upon the penal code, introducing three bills to repeal the statutes of William III., Queen Anne, and George II., by wbich the capital penalty might be inflicted for privately stealing in a shop goods to the value of five shillings, or in a dwelling-house, or on board a vessel in a navigable river. It is difficult now to believe that these measures would be bitterly opposed by such men as Windham, an orator of genius, a scholar, and a gentleman; and by Percival, the Prime Minister. Yet such was the fact; and almost every member of the Government followed on the same side. Romilly had the satisfaction, however, of being supported by the eloquence of Canning and the authority of Wilberforce. Notwithstanding their valuable assistance, notwithstanding the strength of his arguments and the accumulated testimony of his facts, he was defeated. His first bill passed the Commons, but was rejected by the Lords ; his second,