Laurence, French (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

LAURENCE, FRENCH (1757–1809), civilian, eldest son of Richard Laurence, watchmaker, of Bath, by Elizabeth, daughter of John French, clothier, of Warminster, Wiltshire, was born on 3 April 1757. Richard Laurence [q.v.] was his younger brother. He was educated at Winchester School under Dr. Joseph Warton [q.v.], and at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, of which he was scholar, and where he graduated B.A. on 17 Dec. 1777, and proceeded M.A. on 21 June 1781. On leaving the university he took chambers at the Middle Temple with the view of being called to the common-law bar, but eventually determined to devote himself to civil law, and having taken the degree of D.C.L. at Oxford, 19 Oct. 1787, was admitted to the College of Advocates on 3 Nov. in the ensuing year.

Laurence had shown in youth considerable faculty for English verse. While pursuing his legal studies he wrote political ballads in aid of Fox's candidature for Westminster in 1784, and contributed to the 'Rolliad' the advertisements and dedication, Criticisms iii. vi. vii. viii. xiii. and xiv. in the first part, vii. in the second part; Probationary Odes xvi. and xxi.; and the first of the Political Eclogues, viz. 'Rose, or the Complaint.' Having made himself useful to Burke in preparing the preliminary case against Warren Hastings, he was retained as counsel in 1788 by the managers of the impeachment, together with William Scott, afterwards lord Stowell [q.v.], for colleague; and though he took no part in the proceedings in Westminster Hall beyond attending and watching their progress, he gave excellent advice in chambers, and acquired a high reputation for learning and ability. His practice in ecclesiastical and admiralty courts thenceforward grew rapidly. He remained on very intimate terms with Burke until that statesman's death, and was his literary executor [see under Burke, Edmund]. His letters to Burke were published and edited by his brother in 'The Epistolary Correspondence of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke and Dr. French Laurence,' London, 1827, 8vo. In 1796 he was appointed, through the interest of the Duke of Portland, regius professor of civil law at Oxford, in succession to Dr. Thomas Francis Wenman [q.v.], and the same year, through the influence of Burke with Earl Fitzwilliam, entered parliament as member for Peterborough. His speeches in parliament were marked by learning and weight rather than brilliance and force, and except on questions of international law, in which he was a recognised authority, evinced a mind so dominated by the influence of Burke as almost entirely to have parted with its independence. In opposing the union with Ireland he insisted that Burke, had he lived, would have done so likewise. Laurence was a member of the committee appointed in 1806 to frame the articles of impeachment against Lord Melville [see Dundas, Henry, first Viscount Melville]. He was chancellor of the diocese of Oxford and a judge of the court of admiralty of the Cinque ports. He died suddenly on 26 Feb. 1809, while on a visit to one of his brothers at Eltham, Kent, and was buried in Eltham Church, where a marble tablet was placed to his memory.

Laurence did not marry. His leisure time he spent in society—he was a member of the Eumelean Club—or in trifling with literature and divinity. As his contributions to the 'Rolliad' abundantly evince, he did not lack wit, but he had not the readiness necessary for brilliant social success, and an indistinct enunciation made his conversation 'like a learned manuscript written in a bad hand.' His person was unwieldy, and his mouth was said to bear a striking resemblance to that of a shark. His 'Poetical Remains,' published with those of his brother Richard [q.v.], archbishop of Cashel (Dublin, 1872, 8vo), include some odes (one of which, on the 'Witches and Fairies' of Shakespeare, written as a school exercise in his sixteenth year, was much admired by Warton), and a few sonnets and some translations from the Greek, Latin, and Italian. Laurence was also a frequent contributor to the 'Gentleman's Magazine.' His dabblings in divinity appeared as 'Critical Remarks on Detached Passages of the New Testament, particularly the Revelation of St. John,' Oxford, 1810, 8vo, edited by his brother. They are wholly worthless.

[Memoirs prefixed to Epistolary Corresp. and Poetical Remains; Coote's Cat. of English Civilians; Cat. of Oxford Graduates; Brougham's Statesmen of the Reign of George III; Life and Letters of Sir Gilbert Elliot, first Earl of Minto, i. 139; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, ii. 638; Gent. Mag. 1809, pt. i. p. 282; European Mag. 1809, pt. i. p. 241; Ann. Reg. 1809, p. 664.]

J. M. R.