Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/McLaren, John
McLAREN, JOHN, Lord McLaren (1831–1910), Scottish judge, born at Edinburgh on 17 April 1831, was son of Duncan McLaren [q. v.], M.P. for Edinburgh, by his first wife. Grant, daughter of William Aitken, merchant in Dunbar. Owing to delicate health John was unable to attend school, and was privately educated. He went to Edinburgh University, and joined the Scots Law Society (20 Nov. 1854). On 6 Dec. 1856 he passed to the Scottish bar, and next year became a member (18 March 1857) of the Juridical Society, of which he was librarian (1859-1860). His progress at the bar was hindered by the state of his health, which forced him to spend at least one winter abroad. In 1869, however, he was made sheriff of chancery, and thereafter gradually acquired a considerable practice.
Like his father, who was the active leader of Scottish radicals and senior M.P. for Edinburgh since 1865, McLaren was an advanced liberal, and, though personally very popular with the bar, incurred the hostility of the whig influence which was at that time strong in the Parliament House.
After the Gladstone government retired in 1874 McLaren played an active part in re-organising the Scottish liberals, and in arranging the 'Midlothian campaign' of 1879–80. He moved the vote of thanks to Gladstone after his first speech (24 Nov. 1879), and helped William Patrick Adam [q. v.], the liberal whip, in preparing for the general election of 1880, when he was himself returned for the Wigton district. On the formation of the Gladstone government (April 1880) he was appointed lord advocate, by way of recognition of his services to the party, but was defeated on seeking re-election by Mark John Stewart (afterwards Sir M. J. Mactaggart Stewart). The like ill-fortune pursued him when he stood for Berwick-on-Tweed in July 1880. He remained without a seat till January 1881, when his father retired in his favour, and he was elected for Edinburgh, after a contest. McLaren's parliamentary career was cut short against his wish. Sir William Harcourt, then home secretary, and he were on bad terms, and their differences came to a head in August 1881. The resignation of Adam Gifford, Lord Gifford [q. v.], then created a vacancy on the Scottish bench. The lord advocate, in accordance with the usual practice, recommended to the prime minister an advocate for the appointment. Gladstone requested McLaren to take the post himself. McLaren declined. He had just fought three costly elections within the last eighteen months, and wished to remain in parliament. But Gladstone under pressure from Harcourt was insistent, John Bright, then chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, whose sister (Priscilla) was third wife of McLaren's father, exerted his influence with Gladstone on McLaren's behalf, but without avail; and McLaren was forced out of the House of Commons into the vacant judgeship. He was succeeded as lord advocate by John Blair Balfour, Lord Kinross, [q. v. Suppl. II]. On the bench, where his judgments were noted as models of clear reasoning and concise statement, McLaren was eminently successful during a judicial career of nearly thirty years. He died at Brighton on 6 April 1910, and was buried in the Grange cemetery at Edinburgh.
While at the bar McLaren was editor and author of several legal works: 1. 'Collection of Public General Statutes and Acts of Sederunt relating to Procedure in the Supreme Courts of Scotland,' 1861. 2. 'Treatise on the Law of Trusts and Trust Settlements,' 1863. 3. Edition of Professor More's 'Lectures on the Law of Scotland,' 1864. 4. 'Law of Scotland relating to Wills,' 1868; new edit. 1894, still a leading authority. 5. Edition of Professor Bell's 'Commentaries on the Law of Scotland,' 1870. He also studied astronomy and mathematics, and various mathematical papers by him were published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which he was several time a vice-president. He was for some years president of the Scottish Meteorological Society, and a director of the Ben Nevis Observatory. He received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the universities of Edinburgh (1882), Glasgow (1883, along with John Bright, who was then installed as rector), and Aberdeen (1906, at the fourth-centenary celebration of that university), and was an intimate friend of Sir WilUam Thomson (Lord Kelvin) [q. v. Suppl. II], Professor Peter Guthrie Tait [q. v. Suppl. II], and other men of science.
McLaren married in 1868 Ottilie, daughter of H. L. Schabe of Glasgow, by whom he had three sons and three daughters. He was survived by one son, Duncan, now (1912) residing in British Columbia. Of his daughters, the eldest, Katharine, married F. S. Oliver of Checkendon Court, Oxfordshire, author of 'The Life of Alexander Hamilton,' and the youngest, Ottilie, wife of William Wallace, musical composer, has shown much ability as a sculptor. There are three oil portraits of McLaren; two, by Otto Leyde and John Lavery respectively, are in the possession of his widow. The third, by Meg Wright, belongs to his half-brother. Sir Charles Benjamin Bright McLaren, Lord Aberconway. Two busts in bronze, by John Hutchinson, R.S.A., and by his daughter, Mrs. Wallace, belong to his widow.
[Scotsman and The Times, 7 April 1910; Roll of the Faculty of Advocates; Roll of the Scots Law Society; Records of the Juridical Society; Proc. Roy. Soc. Edin., vol. xxxi. part 5, p. 694; personal knowledge.]