Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 50.djvu/412

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Scarlett
Scarlett
400

law’ (Memoir, p. 71). The largest income which he ever made in one year at the bar appears to have been 18,500l., but this in later days has of course been frequently surpassed (Quarterly Review, cxliv. 15). He purchased the seat and estate at Abinger in Surrey in 1813, and was called to the bench of the Inner Temple three years later.

Scarlett unsuccessfully contested the borough of Lewes as a whig candidate in October 1812, and again in March 1816. Several offers of a seat were made to him if he would consent to support the government, but, though their acceptance would have led to his immediate advancement to office, Scarlett refused them all (Memoir, pp. 132–133). At last, through the influence of Lord Fitzwilliam, he obtained a seat at Peterborough at a by-election early in February 1819. He spoke for the first time in the House of Commons during the debate on the Windsor establishment on the 22nd of that month (Parl. Debates, 1st ser. xxxix. 600–605). His speech on that occasion was pronounced by Brougham to have been ‘one of the most able speeches that any professional man ever made’ (Life and Times of Lord Brougham, 1871, iii. 471; see also Diary and Correspondence of Lord Colchester, 1861, iii. 69; Greville Memoirs, 1874, 1st ser. i. 18), but his subsequent efforts in parliament were less successful, and, like many another famous barrister, he failed to sustain in the House of Commons the brilliant reputation which he had gained in the law courts. On 3 March he supported Sir James Mackintosh's motion for the appointment of a select committee ‘to consider so much of the Criminal Laws as relates to Capital Punishment in Felonies,’ and was placed on the committee to inquire and report to the house on that subject (Parl. Debates, 1st ser. xxxix. 838–42). In June he opposed Vansittart's demand for additional taxation to the amount of three millions, and spoke strongly against the Foreign Enlistment Bill (ib. xl. 964–8, 1110–12, 1235–9). On 13 Dec. he protested against the Seditious Meetings Prevention Bill, the provisions of which he described as being ‘inimical to the liberties of the country’ (ib. xli. 1062–8, 1070, 1082–3). He was re-elected for Peterborough at the general election in March 1820. On 26 June he denounced the appointment of a secret committee of inquiry into the queen's conduct (ib. 2nd ser. i. 1392–5), and on 17 Oct. following he declared that if the bill of pains and penalties ever reached the House of Commons, he ‘should consider it as a disgrace if it was entertained for a moment’ (ib. iii. 791–3). On 26 Jan. 1821 he attacked the government for having prejudged the queen's case by omitting her name from the liturgy (ib. iv. 200–2). On 8 May 1821 he obtained leave to bring in a bill to amend the law ‘relating to the relief of the poor in England,’ which was read a second time on the 24th of the same month, but was subsequently withdrawn (ib. v. 573–82, 587–8, 989–94, 999, 1479–80, 1483). On 31 May 1822 he moved the second reading of his Poor Removal Bill, but was defeated by a majority of sixteen votes (ib. vii. 761–72, 779).

Scarlett resigned his seat at Peterborough in order to contest Cambridge University at a by-election in November 1822. Though there were two tories in the field, he was easily beaten, and in February 1823 he was re-elected for his old constituency, which he continued thenceforth to represent until July 1830. He warmly resented Lord Eldon's attack upon Abercromby, and on 1 March 1824, ‘forgetting the measured compass of his long-adopted voice and manner, spoke out in a broad northern dialect and told daring truths which astonished the house’ (London Magazine for March 1825, p. 337; Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. x. 593–7, 619). In the following year he unsuccessfully opposed, in a speech of great length, the third reading of the bill for altering the law of principal and factor (ib. xiii. 1433–57).

On Canning becoming prime minister, Scarlett, with the consent of the whig leaders, accepted the post of attorney-general (27 April 1827), and received the honour of knighthood (30 April). When Goderich was in power, Scarlett appears to have proposed the repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act and the two Libel Acts of 1819 (Memoir of J. C. Herries, 1880, ii. 54, 55). Though invited by the king and the Duke of Wellington to continue in office, Scarlett resigned on the duke's accession to power in January 1828. While supporting the bill making provision for Canning's family on 22 May, Scarlett declared that ‘of all public men he ever knew, he differed least from Mr. Canning on public principles’ (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. xix. 899).

Scarlett succeeded Sir Charles Wetherell as attorney-general in the Duke of Wellington's administration on 29 June 1829, reserving to himself the right of acting independently of the government on the question of reform. As chief law officer he exhibited much hostility to the press, and at his instance several informations were filed against the ‘Morning Journal,’ ‘Atlas,’ and other papers for libels on the Duke of Wellington and the lord chancellor. On 9 March