Richardson, John (1780-1864) (DNB00)

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RICHARDSON, JOHN (1780–1864), solicitor, was born 9 May 1780, at Gilmerton in Midlothian, where his father had a small property in land. His father died when he was eight months, and his mother when he was a few years old. By his mother's side he was related to the Brougham family, and Mrs. Brougham, the statesman's mother, was very kind to him in youth and his friend in after years. He was sent to school at Dalkeith, where he remained till 1794, and then he was entered at the university of Edinburgh, where he was on intimate terms with Henry Brougham and his two brothers, James and Peter. His other friends in early life included Cockburn and Jeffrey, Francis Horner, James Grahame, John Leyden, Thomas Campbell, and Walter Scott. In younger days he was a strong democrat, and he wrote songs which were sent to the Irish and British refugees at Hamburg; these he characterised in later life as ‘sad trash.’

In 1796 he was apprenticed to a writer to the signet. After being qualified to practise law as a solicitor, he resolved to migrate to London and conduct Scottish cases in parliament. Lord Cockburn chronicles that Richardson was the last of a band of young and ambitious Scotsmen ‘to be devoured by hungry London,’ the hunger being not wholly on London's side. He took up his abode in Fludyer Street, Westminster, where he lived for many years. The sum of 1,000l. constituted his patrimony, and he passed, as he writes in his ‘Diary,’ ‘many a heavy and sorrowful day’ before his labours had their recompense. His ultimate success as a parliamentary solicitor was great, and his firm, Richardson, Loch, & Maclaurin, was widely esteemed. During thirty years he discharged the duties of crown agent for Scotland, being reputed the most learned peerage lawyer of his time. He was also the London law agent of the university of Glasgow, which made him an honorary LL.D. on 2 Dec. 1830. On 13 Nov. 1827 he was admitted a writer to the signet.

Richardson had literary tastes and cultivated literary society. He was the wise counsellor and warm friend of Thomas Campbell. In 1821 he introduced George Crabbe to Campbell in Joanna Baillie's house at Hampstead, which was near his own. Sir Walter Scott, who regularly corresponded with him, said of him in a letter to Miss Baillie in December 1813: ‘Johnnie Richardson is as good, honourable, kind-hearted a little fellow as lives in the world, with a pretty taste for poetry, which he has wisely kept in subjection to the occupation of drawing briefs and revising conveyances.’ Scott confided to Richardson the secret of the Waverley novels. In 1806 Richardson records that he met Scott in Campbell's house at Sydenham, where they had ‘a very merry night,’ and Scott, for the only time in his life, attempted to sing. At the recommendation of Scott he bought, in 1830, the estate of Kirklands in Roxburghshire, and spent the autumn months there each year till 1860. He saw Sir Walter in June 1832, during his halt in London, on returning, as a dying man, from Italy to Abbotsford, and the sound of a familiar voice aroused Scott from his lethargy and made him ask, ‘How does Kirklands get on?’ When in his eightieth year, Richardson retired to Kirklands. Soon afterwards he was smitten with a mortal malady, but he lingered for three years. He died at Kirklands on 4 Oct. 1864.

He married, in 1811, Elizabeth Hill, an intimate friend of Thomas Campbell, and he left several children. Some verses by him are included in a collection, edited by Joanna Baillie, and published in 1823; and his name is mentioned without disparagement in the ‘Noctes Ambrosianæ’ for May in that year. Lord Cockburn writes of him (Memorials, p. 182): ‘Though drudging in the depths of the law, this toil has always been graced by the cultivation of letters, and by the cordial friendship of the most distinguished men of the age.’

[Diary in manuscript; art. by Lord Moncrieff in the North British Review, No. 82, pp. 463, 501; Blackwood's Magazine, xiii. 605; Gent. Mag. 1865, pt. i. p. 239 (from the Edinburgh Courant); Lockhart's Life of Scott; Beattie's Life of Campbell; Lord Cockburn's Memorials of his Time; information supplied by W. Innes Addison, esq.]

F. R.