Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/41

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Abbott
Abbott
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on the left-hand side of the west entrance to the cathedral. He was, to quote the epitaph which he wrote for his tomb two months before his death, ‘Filius natu minor humillimis sortis parentibus, patre vero prudenti, matre pia ortus,’ that is, he was the second son of a respectable hairdresser and wig-maker, among whose patrons were the clergy of the cathedral. As a lad Abbott is said to have helped his father in his business. Lord Campbell, who, in his ‘Lives of the Chief Justices,’ gives the most complete account of him, describes Abbott as a ‘scrubby little boy, who ran after his father, carrying for him a pewter basin, a case of razors, and a hair-powder bag.’ Having been taught to read at a dame's school, he entered at seven the King's or Grammar School, where many celebrated men have been educated. Abbott's ability was soon discovered by his teacher, Dr. Osmond Beauvoir. The late Sir Egerton Brydges, who was Abbott's schoolfellow, states that ‘from his earliest years he was industrious, apprehensive, regular and correct in all his conduct, even in his temper, and prudent in everything.’ Another schoolfellow describes him as ‘grave, silent, and demure; always studious and well-behaved.’ The same informant says: ‘I think his first rise in life was owing to a boy of the name of Thurlow, an illegitimate son of the lord chancellor, who was at Canterbury Free School with us. Abbott and this boy were well acquainted, and when Thurlow went home for the holidays he took young Abbott with him. Abbott then became acquainted with Lord Thurlow, and was a kind of helping tutor to his son; and I have always heard, and am persuaded, that it was by his lordship's aid that he was afterwards sent to school with us.’ About the age of fourteen he was put forward by his father as a candidate for a place as singing-boy in the cathedral. But his voice being husky, another boy was preferred. In after years, as chief justice, he went the home circuit with Mr. Justice Richardson, and visited the cathedral with his brother judge. Pointing to a singer in the choir, he said, ‘Behold, brother Richardson, that is the only human being I ever envied. When at school in this town we were candidates for a chorister's place; he obtained it; and if I had gained my wish, he might have been accompanying you as chief justice, and pointing me out as his old schoolfellow, the singing-man.’

Abbott's proficiency in Latin verse was remarkable; and at seventeen he was captain of the school. His father wished that his son should be apprenticed to his trade, and the indentures were actually signed, sealed, and delivered. Fortunately the trustees of the school saw their way to increase the amount of an exhibition, and he was thus enabled to go to Oxford. He entered Corpus Christi College 21 March 1781, where he obtained a scholarship. In 1783 he competed for the chancellor's medal for Latin composition, the subject being the siege of Gibraltar, ‘Calpe obsessa.’ He failed to get the prize, being beaten by Bowles the poet, then a scholar of Trinity. But in 1784 he won it by his verses on ‘Globus Aerostaticus,’ the voyage in a balloon of Lunardi, who had about that time introduced the air-balloon into England. In 1786 he gained the chancellor's medal for English composition by an essay ‘On the Use and Abuse of Satire.’ This essay, which is printed in the first volume of the ‘Oxford Prize Essays,’ begins in the approved prize style of the period: ‘In the early ages of nations, as in the youth of individuals, before the authority of the judgment is confirmed by the establishment of acknowledged truths, the passions are ever the most powerful springs of human action.’ The essay deals separately with personal, political, moral, and critical satire. Clear as one of Lord Tenterden's judgments, it shows considerable reading; and it ends with the cautious remark, characteristic of the author: ‘Perhaps we need not hesitate to conclude that the benefits derived from satire are far superior to the disadvantages, with regard both to their extent and duration; and its authors may therefore be deservedly numbered among the happiest instructors of mankind.’ In 1785 Abbott took his degree of B.A., and he was soon afterwards made a fellow of his college and tutor. As private tutor of Mr. Yarde, son of Mr. Justice Buller, he became acquainted with that judge, who strongly urged him to go to the bar. ‘You may not possess,’ he said in his pithy fashion, ‘the garrulity called eloquence, which sometimes rapidly forces up an impudent pretender, but you are sure to get early into respectable business at the bar, and you may count on becoming in due time a puisne judge.’ He took Buller's advice. On 16 Nov. 1787 Abbott was admitted a student of the Middle Temple. He took chambers in Brick Court, and attended for several months the offices of Messrs. Sandys & Co., attorneys, in Craig's Court. Afterwards he entered the chambers of Mr. Wood, who had been the instructor of Lord Ellenborough and several other judges, and who was one of the chief pleaders of his day. Having there mastered the science of special pleading, he practised for several years as a special pleader under the bar.

On 13 July 1795 he married Mary, daughter of John Langley Lamotte, of Basildon, Berk-