Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/138

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world a favourable opinion of his professional attainments. " The multi- tude," he says in the conclusion to his Religious Stoic, " (which, albeit, it haih ever been allowed many heads, yet hath never been allowed any brains,) will doubtless accuse my studies of adultery, for hugging contemplations so eccentric to my employment. To these my return is, that these papers are but the par- ings of my other studies, and because they were but parings, I have flung them out into the streets. I wrote them in my retirements, when I wanted both books and employment ; and I resolve, that this shall be the last inroad I shall ever make into foreign contemplations."

Let us now turn from his literature to the political and professional advance- ment, which interfered with its progress, or at least changed its course. Soon after the Restoration, he was appointed a justice-depute, or assistant to the justi- ciar or chief justice ; a situation, the duties of which were almost equivalent to that of an English puisne judge of the present day, in criminal matters. He must have received the appointment very early in life, as in 1661, he and his colleagues were appointed to repair " once in the week at least to Musselburgh and Dalkeith, and to try and judge such persons as are ther or therabout de- lated of witchcraft ;" and the experience in the dark sciences, obtained by him in this occupation, provided him with much grave and learned matter for his work on the criminal law of Scotland. Within a few years after this period, (the time is not particularly ascertained,) he was knighted. In 1669, lie repre- sented the county of Ross, where the influence of his family was extensive, in parliament. During that year, the letter of Charles, proposing the immediate consideration of a plan for an incorporating union of the two kingdoms, was read in parliament. Sir George, an enemy to every thing which struck at the individual consequence and hereditary greatness of the country, in which he held a stake, opposed the proposition. He tells us, in his amusing memoirs of the period, that when the commissioner proposed an answer, closing with the king's proposals, and entitling him to the election of the commissioner, he moved, that the parliament should have a day for the consideration of so serious a matter, as there might be questions about succession to be discussed, " whereupon the commissioner rose in a great passion, and told that he consented that the par- liament should deliberate upon the letter now read till to-morrow ; but that he understood not, how any member of parliament could be so bold as to inquire into the succession, upon a supposition that his majesty, and all the present royal line, should fail." Next day, Sir George came prepared with a speech on the subject. Of this somewhat interesting effort, he has given us a transcript, which is generally understood to be the earliest authentically reported specimen of legislative eloquence in Scotland. It is compact, clear, accurate, well com- posed, without flights of ardour, and, therefore, destitute of the burning impetu- osity which afterwards distinguished Fletcher and Belhaven. On the whole, it appears, in its present form at least, to have been composed in the closet His reasoning, when the aim is considered, was prudent and cautious he considered and doubted " whether it was suitable to our honour, to advance in this union those steps, before England met us in one : and that we have done so in this letter, appears from this, that to treat of an union is one step ; the second is to name commissioners ; the third is to appoint their quorum, time, and place of their meeting : all which are several steps because they behoved, if they had been concluded in parliament, to have had several votes and conclusions." He also doubted, " whether it were fitter for his majesty's service, and the in- tended treaty, that the nomination of the commissioners should be referred to his majesty, or rather that they should be nominated in parliament." His speech gave grea: offence to those who had peculiar grounds for objecting to