Douglas, Sylvester (DNB00)

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DOUGLAS, SYLVESTER, Baron Glenbervie (1743–1823), only surviving son of John Douglas of Fechil, Aberdeenshire, by his wife, Margaret, daughter and coheiress of James Gordon, was born on 24 May 1743. He was educated at the university of Aberdeen, where he distinguished himself both as a scientific as well as a classical scholar. He then passed some years on the continent, and graduated at Leyden University on 26 Feb. 1766. At first he took up the study of medicine, but relinquishing it for the law, he was admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn on 25 April 1771. He was called to the bar in Easter term 1776, and occupied some of his time in reporting in the king's bench. He subsequently obtained a considerable practice, and on 7 Feb. 1793 was appointed a king's counsel, but soon afterwards gave up his legal career and entered political life. In 1794 he succeeded Lord Hobart (afterwards fourth Earl of Buckinghamshire) as chief secretary to John, tenth earl of Westmorland, lord-lieutenant of Ireland, and was returned as a member of the Irish parliament for the borough of St. Canice, or Irishtown, Kilkenny. Having been previously admitted to the Irish privy council, he was sworn a member of the English privy council on 4 May 1794. In January 1795 Douglas was succeeded in the post of chief secretary by Viscount Milton, and in the following February was elected to the English parliament for the borough of Fowey, Cornwall. On 30 June he was appointed one of the commissioners of the board of control, a post which he held until the formation of the ministry of ‘All the Talents.’ At the general election in May 1796 he was returned for Midhurst, Sussex, and on 28 Jan. 1797 received the further appointment of lord of the treasury. He resigned the latter office in December 1800, and was appointed governor of the Cape of Good Hope. But though he gave up his seat in the house in consequence of this appointment, he never went out to the Cape, and on 29 Dec. in the same year was created Baron Glenbervie of Kincardine in the peerage of Ireland. On 26 March 1801 he was appointed joint paymaster-general, and at a bye-election in July was returned for the borough of Plympton Earls, Devonshire. On 18 Nov. 1801 he became vice-president of the board of trade, and at the general election in July 1802 was elected one of the members for Hastings. Upon his appointment as surveyor-general of the woods and forests in January 1803, he resigned the post of joint paymaster-general, and in February 1804 retired from the board of trade. At the dissolution in October 1806 he retired from parliament. He had resigned his office in the woods and forests in the previous February, but was re-appointed in 1807. In 1810 the offices of surveyor-general of the land revenue and of the surveyor-general of the woods and forests were united, and Glenbervie became the first chief commissioner of the united offices, a post which he continued to hold until August 1814, when he was succeeded by William Huskisson. Glenbervie died at Cheltenham on 2 May 1823, in his eightieth year. His title became extinct upon his death. He is said to have ‘ascribed his rise to the reputation he had acquired by reporting Lord Mansfield's decisions’ (Campbell, Lives of the Chief Justices, 1849, ii. 405), but his marriage with Lord North's daughter probably accounts for his rapid political advancement. But few of his speeches in the House of Commons have been reported. He spoke against Jekyll's motion for an inquiry into the circumstances of Earl Fitzwilliam's recall from the government of Ireland (Parl. Hist. xxxi. 1551–6), and delivered a most elaborate speech in favour of the union with Ireland on 22 April 1799 (ib. xxxiv. 827–936), which was afterwards republished in a separate form. Though he voted in the minority against Whitbread's motion of censure upon Lord Melville, he was chosen one of the secret committee of seven appointed to inquire into the advance of 100,000l. for secret naval services (House of Commons' Journals, lx. 420), and as chairman presented the report of the committee to the house on 27 June 1805 (ib. p. 429). He was elected a bencher of Lincoln's Inn in Easter term, 1793, and acted as treasurer of the society in 1799. In October 1820 he was examined as a witness for the defence in the trial of Queen Caroline (Nightingale, Trial of Queen Caroline, 1821, ii. 154–6). Sheridan's pasquinade, beginning with the words,

Glenbervie, Glenbervie,
What's good for the scurvy?
For ne'er be your old trade forgot,

will be found in Moore's ‘Memoirs of Sheridan’ (1825), p. 442. He married, on 26 Sept. 1789, the Hon. Catherine Anne North, eldest daughter of the celebrated Lord North, afterwards the second earl of Guilford. She died on 6 Feb. 1817. They had an only son, the Hon. Frederick Sylvester North Douglas, who was born on 3 Feb. 1791. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, where in Michaelmas term 1809 he obtained a first class in classics, and graduated B.A. and M.A. in 1813. He was elected member for Banbury at the general election in October 1812, and again in June 1818, and published ‘An Essay on certain Points of Resemblance between the Ancient and Modern Greeks’ (2nd edit. corrected, London, 1813, 8vo). On 19 July 1819 he married Harriet, the eldest daughter of William Wrightson of Cusworth, Yorkshire, and died without issue in the lifetime of his father on 21 Oct. in the same year.

In addition to two papers which appeared in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ for 1768 and 1773 (lviii. 181–8, lxiii. 292–302), Glenbervie published the following works: 1. ‘Dissertatio Medica inauguralis de Stimulis,’ &c., Leyden, 1776, 8vo. 2. ‘History of the Cases of Controverted Elections which were tried and determined during the first Session of the fourteenth Parliament of Great Britain, 15 George III,’ London, 1775, 8vo, 2 vols. 3. ‘History of the Cases of Controverted Elections which were tried and determined during the first and second Sessions of the fourteenth Parliament of Great Britain, 15 and 16 George III,’ London, 1777, 8vo, 2 vols. These volumes were in fact a continuation of the preceding work. 4. ‘Reports of Cases argued and determined in the Court of King's Bench in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first years of the Reign of George III,’ London, 1783, fol. Also published in Dublin in the same year; 2nd edition, with additions, London, 1786, fol.; 3rd edition, with additions, London, 1790, 8vo, in two parts; 4th edition, with additions by W. Frere, London, 1813, 8vo, 2 vols. In an autograph note dated 14 March 1814, on the flyleaf of the first volume of the copy of this edition in the British Museum, Glenbervie disclaims any ‘share in the merit of these additions by that learned and respectable editor.’ Two additional volumes containing ‘Reports of Cases argued and determined in the Court of King's Bench in the twenty-second, twenty-third, twenty-fourth, and twenty-fifth years of the Reign of George III. From the manuscripts of the Right Hon. Sylvester Douglas, Baron Glenbervie,’ &c., edited by Frere and Roscoe, were published in 1831, London, 8vo. 5. ‘Speech of the Right Honourable Sylvester Douglas in the House of Commons, Tuesday, April the 23d (sic), 1799, on seconding the Motion of the Right Honourable the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the House to agree with the Lords in an Address to his Majesty relative to a Union with Ireland,’ Dublin, 1799, 8vo. 6. ‘Lyric Poems. By the late James Mercer, Esq. With an account of the Life of the Author, by Sylvester (Douglas), Lord Glenbervie,’ 3rd edit. London, 1806, 8vo. Major Mercer, who was Glenbervie's brother-in-law, died on 27 Nov. 1804. His life is not contained in the previous editions of the poems, though they were also edited by Glenbervie. 7. ‘The first Canto of Ricciardetto, translated from the Italian of Forteguerri, with an Introduction concerning the principal Romantic, Burlesque, and Mock Heroic Poets, and Notes, Critical and Philological,’ London, 1822, 8vo. A smaller volume containing this translation was privately printed in 1821 without the name of the translator. A lithograph portrait of ‘Sylvester (Douglas), Lord Glenbervie, nat. 13 May 1744,’ forms the frontispiece to the edition of 1822.

[Index to Leyden Students (Index Soc. Publ. 1883, xiii.), p. 29; Burke's Extinct Peerage (1883), p. 179; Rose's Biog. Dict. (1848), vii. 126; The Georgian Era (1833), ii. 540; Gent. Mag. 1823, xciii. pt. i. 467–8, 1819, lxxxix. pt. ii. 87, 468–9; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. 188, 202, 208, 224, 262, 276, 684; Cat. of Oxford Graduates (1851), p. 193; Honours Register of Oxford Univ. (1883), p. 195; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. v. 176–7; London Gazettes; Haydn's Book of Dignities; Lincoln's Inn Registers; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.