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THE

NEW YORK REVIEW.

No. XV.

JANUARY, 1841.

ART. I.—Memoirs of the Life of Sir Samuel Romilly, written

by himself, with a Selection from his Correspondence. Edited by his Sons. London: 1840. John Murray. 3 vols. 8vo.

“ I sit down to write my life; the life of one who never achieved anything memorable, who will probably leave no posterity, and the memory of whom is therefore likely to survive him only till the last of a few remaining and affectionate friends shall have followed him to the grave.” This is the language of Sir Samuel Romilly at the age of forty*

these are the

words of a man of scarcely rivalled reputation in the science of the law; who, for nearly twenty years, held undisputed precedence at the head of the chancery bar of England, and was only prevented, by his unbending integrity and independence, from occupying the most august judicial station which the world presents; who, as an advocate, a statesman, and a private person, has left an unsurpassed reputation for uprightness, purity, and unwearied efforts to

* Within a few months. He was born 1st March, 1757. The diary begins 16th August, 1796.

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NO. XV.-VOL. VIII.

promote the happiness of his fellows; of whom his most brilliant contemporary has said, that “no occasion, on which Romilly is named, should ever be passed over without an attempt to record the virtues and endowments of so great and good a man, for the instruction of after ages.” This language of Lord Brougham may, to some ears, perhaps, sound hyperbolical ; and those who are wont to measure moral and intellectual altitudes by the ordinary trigonometry of rank and office, will naturally be surprised at such epithets applied to a man who held no higher station than Sir Samuel Romilly. “ For, after all,” they may say, “what was he?" A distinguished lawyer; solicitor-general for two years ; member of parliament for twelve : this is the summary of his achievements. Let us then more carefully examine this man's career, and learn how it came that he commanded, in the extraordinary degree that he did, the love and respect of his contemporaries.

The materials for a judgment of Sir Samuel Romilly, which are contained in these volumes, are, to a certain extent, the best possible. They are mainly autobiographic. Self-written memoirs are often very imperfect evidence, and are, at the best, like all other testimony, to be examined by their internal harmony. They are often written as evidently and directly for publication as Hamlet's soliloquy. Perhaps it would be safe to say, that no journal of any public man has ever been kept, and voluntarily left behind the writer after his death, which has not been written with a view to the press, possible, or intended, and the frank and free expression of which has not thus, to a certain extent, been checked. We have no self-written record of mind which tells the whole tale ; which records every secret wish, every hidden thought. But this does not destroy, indeed does not much impair, the value of autobiography. Let a man write of himself at different times, year after year, in different states of mind, and it cannot be but that much of truth will be told, and enough, probably, to detect any intentional falsehood that may be interpolated. In vino veritas-In egotism is truth. The proof is, that we turn with alacrity from the cautious, doubting inferences, or the pompous assumptions of history, to the clear and distinct statements of the diary. Whether it be the volume that contains the servility of a Doddington, or that which records the passion, spleen, and egotism of a Byron-our instinct tells us that it is in the main true. But there is one class of autobiography of the highest value ; that which is the calm reflection of a calm mind; when one, conversant with great affairs, sits down avowedly to commemorate the acts of his daily life for his friends or relatives. Such is that which these volumes contain.

The work is mainly composed of two sketches of his life, written by Sir Samuel, in 1796 and 1813, and a very copious diary of his parliamentary life, from 1806 to 1818. These are prepared, he says, for his children. The remainder is made up of correspondence.

Romilly was of Huguenot extraction. His family was one of those driven from France by the stupid fanaticism of Louis XIV. ; that band of devout believers who seem to have carried with them, from that beautiful but long-suffering country, all the capacity of intelligent belief which the nation possessed. His great-grandfather was a gentleman of pretty good landed estate near Montpelier. His grandfather, at the age of seventeen, (in 1701,) went to Geneva, for the purpose of receiving the sacrament, and was there persuaded, by Saurin the divine, “to abandon, for ever,” as Sir Samuel says, “ his native country, his connexions, his friends, his affectionate parents, and the inheritance which awaited him, and to trust to his own industry for a subsistence amid strangers and a foreign land, but in the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty."

In 1807, in the debate on Sir Samuel's bill for making freehold estates assets to pay simple contract debts, Colonel Eyre, member for Nottinghamshire, in opposition to the bill, said that his bringing in such a measure might be ascribed to his hereditary love of democracy. To this, Sir Samuel tells us, he made the following reply:

“ That it was quite unnecessary for the honorable gentleman to have made the apology which he had done. Nothing that he had said had given me the least pain. I wondered that he had thought it worth while to inquire about the ancestors of a person so obscure as myself; but the information he had received was so erroneous, so little applicable to me, that nothing uttered under such a mistake could cause me a moment's concern; that I had never heard that any persons, from whom I was descended, had ever concerned themselves much about politics; that all that I knew of them was, that, living in affluence under the French monarchy till the edict of Nantes was revoked, and, by a breach of public faith, they were no longer permitted to worship God in the way they thought most

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