Lorimer, James (DNB00)

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LORIMER, JAMES (1818–1890), jurist and political philosopher, born at Aberdalgie, Perthshire, 4 Nov. 1818, was son of James Lorimer, who managed the estates of the Earl of Kinnoul. He was educated at the high school of Perth, the universities of Edinburgh, Berlin, and Bonn, and the academy of Geneva. To the lectures of Sir William Hamilton at Edinburgh he attributed the direction of his mind to philosophy, which was strengthened by attending those of Trendelenburg at Berlin and Dahlmann at Bonn. He received instruction at Geneva from De la Rive on zoology and Mitscherlich on chemistry. In 1845, after a brief trial of a commercial career in Glasgow, he was admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates of Scotland. He practised a little at the bar, acted occasionally as sheriff-substitute of Midlothian, and wrote a popular ‘Manual of the Law of Scotland,’ but his career lay in the development of jurisprudence and not in the practice of advocacy.

In 1854 he first made his mark as an author by an essay on ‘The Universities of Scotland, past, present, and possible,’ in which many of the reforms, which it has required several commissions to carry out, were foreshadowed. He had already been a frequent contributor to the ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘North British’ reviews on literary, historical, political, and educational topics. A more important work, ‘Political Progress not necessarily Democratic,’ was published in 1857, to which his ‘Constitutionalism of the Future,’ 1865, was the sequel. The conclusions of these books are equally removed from the opportunism of party leaders and the pessimism of De Tocqueville, who, arguing from the results of the French and American revolutions, believed democracy to be evil, but inevitable, and that the only course left for the practical politician was to check the rapidity of its progress.

Lorimer's books attracted the notice of Sir George Cornewall Lewis, and in 1865 led to his appointment to the newly revived chair in the university of Edinburgh bearing (after Grotius) the name of ‘The Law of Nature and of Nations.’ Lorimer henceforth devoted his chief energies to the performance of his professorial duties. His predilection was for the philosophy of law, the modern counterpart of the law of nature, which he taught according to a system of his own, but acknowledged his obligations to that of Krause, as explained by Ahrens. The result was embodied in the ‘Institutes of Law,’ 1872, 2nd ed. 1880; translated into French in an abridged form by Professor Ernest Nys, Brussels, 1890. Of this subject, so familiar to continental, yet then generally ignored by English, lawyers, Lorimer was almost the sole representative during his life in Great Britain, and, as such, combated the views of the utilitarian and positive school of Bentham, Austin, and Sir Fitzjames Stephen. Nor did he attach much importance in this department to the historical method, to which the ingenious suggestiveness and attractive style of Sir Henry Maine gave for a time so much vogue in England. According to a favourite expression which he borrowed from Burke, he regarded positive laws as declaratory merely, and the origin and history of social and political institutions as illustrative of results which necessarily flowed from the nature of man and the relations between men as individuals or as members of political communities. His attempt to construct a valid à priori method of jurisprudence has been more appreciated in France and Germany than in England. In 1883–4 he published his ‘Institutes of the Law of Nations: a Treatise of the general Relations of separate Political Communities,’ in which he embodied and expanded his lectures on international law. Nine-tenths or more of this work is devoted to public international law, the remainder to a very rapid outline of private international law, on the basis of the classical work of Savigny, though modified and adapted to Lorimer's own system. His treatment of public international law differs from that of most other English writers in his endeavour to ascertain the principles on which it rests and to derive them, not from express or tacit convention, but, as Grotius did, from the law of nature. He discusses, however, on these lines many practical problems of the present day, like neutrality, nationality, proportional disarmament, and others. And he puts forward an ingenious, though utopian, scheme for the organisation of an international government of Europe with its centre at Geneva. This work is dedicated to his colleagues of ‘The Institute of International Law,’ a body of which he was one of the founders in 1873, along with Mancini, Bluntschli, Rolin Jacquemyns, Laveleye, Bessobrassof, Oliverona, Rivier, and other leading jurists of the continent. He was a constant contributor to the ‘Proceedings’ of this institute, and its meetings at various European centres gave him the opportunity of keeping up his intimacy with his continental friends, their countries, and their language. He constantly insisted in his writings on the importance to a small country like Scotland of keeping itself in contact with the great states of Europe and of intercourse with their distinguished men.

In pursuance of his early schemes of university reform, Lorimer sought to develop the faculty of law at Edinburgh. He succeeded in introducing graduation in law, and organised and extended its studies so as to qualify the graduates not merely for the practice of law in Scotland, but also for the diplomatic and other branches of the civil service. Personally, he cultivated friendly relations with diplomatists and politicians, hoping by their aid to render posts in the diplomatic and consular departments more accessible to his students. He strongly advocated the substitution for government officials of a complete education in this faculty for preparation by crammers and competitive examinations.

Lorimer enthusiastically advocated many political reforms in newspapers or reviews or in his annual introductory addresses, which were collected after his death as ‘Studies, National, and International,’ 1890. He proposed to base the franchise on an educational qualification and to extend it to women, and favoured proportional representation, on a plan somewhat similar to that of Mr. Hare. He urged the importance of land being held by residential owners; the advantage of a national church, with a well educated and sufficiently paid clergy; the expediency of members of parliament as well as other public servants being specially trained for their duties; the æsthetic as well as sanitary value of public parks and the planting of trees in towns, and the improvement of cottages and other conditions of life of the labouring classes. He spent his vacation in the old castle of Kelly, near Pittenweem, Fifeshire, which he acquired on a long lease and restored, and where he engaged with keen zest, so far as his health allowed, in the public duties and social amusements of a country gentleman. He died in Edinburgh on 13 Feb. 1890. An excellent portrait by his son has been placed in the Senate Hall of the university of Edinburgh, and a scholarship for the study of the subjects he taught has been founded in his memory. He was survived by his wife, three daughters, and three sons: James Lorimer, who settled in Tasmania, J. H. Lorimer, R.S.A., an accomplished artist, and R. S. Lorimer, A.R.S.A., architect, Edinburgh.

[Personal knowledge and notices of his life and works by his colleague, Professor Flint, in the Juridical Review; Rolyn Jacquemyns, formerly Belgian minister of the interior, and Professor Ernest Nys in the Revue de Droit International, and Mr. Westlake, Q.C., in the Academy. A bibliography of his writings is appended to his Studies, National and International.]

Æ. M.