Bowen, Charles Synge Christopher (DNB01)

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BOWEN, CHARLES SYNGE CHRISTOPHER, Baron Bowen (1835–1894), judge, born at Woolaston on 1 Jan. 1835, was eldest son of Christopher Bowen, a member of a co. Mayo family who was successively curate of Woolaston, near Chepstow, and of Bath Abbey church, rector of Southwark, and rector of St. Thomas's, Winchester. His mother was daughter of Sir Richard Steele, 4th dragoon guards, and her mother was of mixed Austrian and Irish descent. The son Charles from 1845 to 1847 was at school at Lille, and in the latter year went to the proprietary school at Blackheath. At the age of fifteen, when he went to Rugby, he had greatly impressed his masters with his proficiency as a scholar. At Rugby he was in the school house under Edward Meyrick Goulburn [q.v. Suppl.],his tutors being first Mr. Cotton (afterwards bishop of Calcutta), and subsequently Mr, Bradley (now dean of Westminster). As a schoolboy he was most remarkable for his combination of scholastic and athletic distinction. He always occupied the highest place in the school open to a boy of his age and standing. In November 1853 he was elected a scholar of Balliol, and at Rugby in July 1854 obtained the first exhibition {facile princeps), the queen's medal for modern history, and the prize for a Latin essay. He was a distinguished member of the cricket eleven, and is said to have been the best football player in the school. He also obtained the cup given at the athletic sports to the boy who had been successful in the greatest number of competitions. His brother wrote of him, 'He is the only person I ever knew to jump a cow as it stood.' He went into residence at Balliol in 1854, and won the Hertford scholarship in 1855, and the Ireland in 1857. In the latter year, while yet an undergraduate, he was elected a fellow of Balliol. In 1858 he obtained a first class in 'greats,' and was president of the union in the same year; and in 1859 he won the Arnold historical prize. He graduated B.A. in 1857, M.A. in 1872, and was created D.C.L. on 13 June 1883. During his undergraduate life Bowen became, and remained to the end of Tiis life, the intimate friend and warm admirer of Benjamin Jowett [q. v. Suppl,], subsequently master of Balliol, upon whose proposal in 1885 the college paid Bowen the highest compliment in its power by electing him as its visitor.

In April 1858 Bowen entered as a student at Lincoln's Inn (of which he was elected a bencher in 1879), and in the same year, upon leaving Oxford, became a pupil in the chambers of Mr. Christie, an eminent conveyancer. From 1859 to 1861 he was a frequent contributor to the 'Saturday Review,' then edited by John Douglas Cook [q.v.], but terminated his connection with it in the latter year because of his disagreement with the view taken by its conductors of the orthodoxy of Dr. A. P. Stanley (subsequently dean of Westminster), and of his friend Jowett. The editorship of a proposed rival journal was offered to and declined by him.

On 26 Jan. 1861 Bowen was called to the bar, and in the following October joined the western circuit, and records having had 'ten little briefs' when he went sessions for the first time. He continued to work successfully at his profession until 1865, when his health failed seriously. He spent the winter of that year and the spring of 1867 abroad, suffering much from fever and nervous prostration. From this time his health was always precarious, and his physical strength was probably never equal to the strain put upon it by his unremitting industry. After the general election of 1868 he was appointed a member of the Totnes election commission, but upon the discovery that his standing at the bar did not qualify him for that office the appointment was cancelled and that of secretary to the commission substituted for it. In 1869 he was made a revising barrister. In 1871-4 he was employed as junior counsel in the 'Tichborne Case,' appearing against the 'Claimant' both in the trial at nisi prius before Chief-justice Bovill, and in the criminal trial 'at bar' before Lord-chief-justice Cockburn and Justices Mellor and Lush [see Suppl. Orton, Arthur]. In the former of these trials he was brought into close connection with Sir John Duke (afterwards Lord) Coleridge [q. v. Suppl.], who led for the defendants, and the two men formed an affectionate intimacy which lasted throughout their lives. It is said that it was Bowen who invented in consultation the phrase, 'Would you be surprised to hear that?' with wliich Coleridge began a very large proportion of the questions addressed in cross-examination to the 'Claimant.' The expression became a popular catchword, and was remembered for many years, though not in the least understood by the public, who were amused simply by its wearisome reiteration. The object with which it was devised was to abstain from giving in the form of the question the least hint as to whether it would be correctly answered in the affirmative or in the negative. During the progress of this case in 1872 Bowen was appointed by Coleridge, who was then attorney-general, junior counsel to the treasury in succession to Mr. Justice Sir Thomas Dickson Archibald [q.v. Suppl.] While he held this laborious office his reputation for learning and ingenuity was extremely high, and he had, besides his official work, a large and lucrative private practice. ;In May 1879 he was appointed by Lord Cairns a judge of the queen's bench division, and was knighted, and in 1888 he was made a judge of the court of appeal. In 1893 he was appointed a lord of appeal in ordinary, receiving at the same time a life-peerage, and in the same year he presided over a departmental committee of the home office, which inquired into the circumstances of a riot at Featherstone, and reported correctly upon the state of the law — with which the public had become unfamiliar — relating to the suppression of riots by force. In the following spring Bowen's health, which had for some time been such as to cause uneasiness, failed entirely, and he died on 10 April 1894.

Bowen married, in 1862, Emily Frances, eldest daughter of James Meadows Rendel [q. v.] By her he had three children — the Rev. William Edward Bowen (b. 1862), Maxwell Steele Bowen {b. 1865), and Ethel, who married Josiah Wedgwood, esq. Lady Bowen survdved her husband and died on 25 March 1897. A marble tablet, bearing an inscription by Mr. Justice Denman, was erected to his memory by his fellow-benchers of Lincoln's Inn in their chapel.

Without having that commanding force of character which procures for some men recognition as among the greatest judges of their day, Bowen was conspicuous among his contemporaries for the subtlety and rapidity of his perceptions, for his almost excessive power of refined distinction, and for the elegant precision of his language. It was generally felt that his success as a judge of first instance, especially when trying cases with a jury, was not commensurate with his reputation as a man of very high ability and great mental distinction.

He could not consider questions of fact from the sort of point of view which might be expected to be taken by juries, and his summing up of evidence had consequently less influence upon their verdicts than those of some of his brethren. In the court of appeal his work suited him better. The master of the rolls, William Baliol Brett, lord Esher [q.v. Suppl.], in whose court he had usually sat before his promotion to the House of Lords, said of him from the bench, upon the announcement of his death, 'His knowledge was so complete that it is almost beyond my powers of expression. His reasoning was so extremely accurate and so beautifully fine that what he said sometimes escaped my mind, which is not so finely edged.' This tribute, uttered in a moment of emotion by a generous and warm-hearted critic, is probably equivalent to the opinion that Bowen's strength lay rather in his remarkable intellectual agility and grace than in the faculty of firmly expounding the great principles of law, and lucidly tracing them to their logical application in particular circumstances.

In private life Bowen was remarkable for the vivacity of his wit, for the charm of his manner — described by his biographer as 'almost deferential urbanity' — and a profound reserve which made it doubtful whether any one knew him with real intimacy. He was the author of many apt and much-quoted sayings, of which perhaps the most famous is his suggested amendment of a proposed address by the judges to the sovereign upon the opening of the royal courts of justice. The draftsman had used the expression, 'Conscious as we are of our own infirmities,' and objection was taken that the phrase was unduly humble. Bowen suggested, by way of pleasing both parties, 'Conscious as we are of one another's infirmities.' In person he was well-proportioned and of middle size ; his features were regular, and his eyes of remarkable beauty. To the end of his life, in spite of ill-health, he preserved great juvenility of appearance. At the time of his appointment to the bench, in his forty-fifth year, his aspect was almost boyish.

In 1868 he published a pamphlet in favour of submitting to arbitration the whole of the differences between ourselves and the United States arising out of the American civil war. In 1887 he published a translation into English verse of the Eclogues, and the first six books of the ^neid, of Virgil. The metre he selected was the shortened rhyming hexameter, and he handled it with remarkable skill.

[Lord Bowen, a Biographical Sketch, by Sir Henry Stewart Cunningham, K.C.I.E., printed for private circulation 1896, published 1897; Campbell and Abbott's Life and Letters of Jowett; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715-1886, and Men at the Bar; Lincoln's Inn Records, 1896; Burke's Peerage, 1894; personal recollections.]

H. S.-n.