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SIR WILLIAM FOLLETT.
SIR WILLIAM FOLLETT was among the most able and most successful members of the profession; and he united, with an extraordinary capacity for its prosecution, talents of a very high order as a senator;talents rarely found in combination with those of the lawyer, how closely soever the two provinces may, to superficial observers, appear to touch. In truth, if there is much to qualify an able and popular advocate for parliamentary exertion, there is also much to disable him. The niceties of legal arguments are not very level to the comprehension of the multitude, either within or without the walls of the Senate, and the subtle argumentation in which lawyers are prone to indulge is therefore very little suited to the popular taste. An advocate, too, representing his client is apt to be somewhat careless how sorely he fatigues the judge, in urging all points that may by any possibility serve his cause. Even when he addresses a jury, he makes sure of their attention, for they have no choice, because they are sworn to determine, and must therefore hear; besides that, only coming now and then into the box, they are much more patient than men who are doomed daily to hear debate. He is also a good deal above his audience in understanding, generally their superior in station, and thus it happens that the advocate, always secure of a hearing, takes little pains to gain attention, nor at all dreads losing it by his prolixity. Add to this, that he generally enters the House of Commons after his station is established in Westminster Hall, and he is not disposed to court favour in order to set his new position
on a line with that which he has already attained. All these considerations tend to make lawyers somewhat careless both of being interesting and of being brief, when they address the House; and all of these considerations are apt to make them abandon the attempt at rising there, in some disgust at finding themselves undervalued or overlooked. These astute personages find the meed of popular applause vain and idle, and run back to the chase of surer game, among their natural prey. The failure of lawyers in Parliament is thus not difficult to account for.
He was the son of Captain Follett, by Miss Webb, an Irish lady of Kinsale. In 1790, the health of this gallant officer having been broken by serving in the West Indies, he left the army, and engaged in mercantile pursuits in Devonshire, where he lived, and where he died in his seventy-first year. William was then the eldest surviving son, having been born the 2d December, 1798, at Topsham. His elder brother, a lieutenant in the 43rd regiment, was killed before San Sebastian, in September, 1813, on the very day after he landed in Spain.
William, contrary to the positive, but most gratuitous assertion of periodical writers, had no constitutional weakness in early life, and no want of the very earliest indications of great talents. His own family had formed the highest opinion of his capacity, and in consequence educated him for the bar. He was first sent to the Exeter Grammar School, then under Dr. Lempriere, author of the well-known classical dictionary; and he was afterwards placed under the private tuition of Mr. Hutchinson, curate of Heavitree, near the same city. In 1814 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained till 1818, when he took his bachelor's degree, but he took it with no academical honours, nor did the sciences chiefly cultivated there ever prove attractive to him; though he was sufficiently conversant with classical
literature, and his general reading was extensive. It has been said by the same inaccurate dealers in ephemeral history, that at Cambridge he was a Whig. This rests upon insufficient authority, at least it is coupled with a very gross mis-statement, for the writer says that on meeting a college friend soon after he entered Parliament, he said, in answer to a charge of having changed his principles, that his conversion was at least disinterested, the Whigs being then in the zenith of power and popularity. Now, here is an anachronism of some years, for he entered Parliament in 1835, when the Whigs were in opposition, and he entered it as Solicitor-General. He had three years before contested Exeter on Tory principles, and failed; and the fact is certain that from the moment of his coming to London in 1818, he was, and continued steadily to be, a Tory or Conservative; all his friendships, and most of his connexions, being with that party. Another equally groundless mis-statement accompanies the same assertion: it is said to be well known that overtures were made to him by the Whig government, and rejected. We affirm, upon the most unquestionable authority, that for this there is not the least foundation. We state this as well upon the express authority of the Whig ministers as upon that of Sir William Follett's family, and his most intimate friends. The Chancellor (Lord Brougham) offered him a silk gown in 1831, having known him intimately at the bar, and formed very early a high estimate of his talents; but the offer was expressly made upon the footing of his being a political adversary, and certain to take an active and a powerful position against the government of his lordship's friends in the House of Commons. The refusal of professional rank was made after full deliberation, both in conference with the Chancellor and with Sir William's near connexion and attached friend Mr. Croker, and it was refused solely upon the ground of professional prudence.
In 1818 he became a pupil of Mr. Godfrey Sykes, and afterwards of Mr. Robert Bayly, then eminent special pleaders, having been two years before entered of the Inner Temple, and after very diligent and successful study for three years under these learned men, he began himself to practise as a pleader below the bar, and obtained a fair share of business. In the summer of 1824 he was called to the bar, and the year after joined the Western Circuit, to which also his master, Mr. Bayly, belonged. He was now in his twenty-seventh year, and it may safely be affirmed that very few men have ever entered the profession with more abundant qualifications for rapidly and greatly succeeding in its arduous rivalry. His understanding was naturally penetrating, and it was solid, so that with extraordinary quickness of perception he had a sound and mature judgment, never at fault. At the happy age, especially, when all the active powers are in full vigour, and lend force and quickness to the intellectual faculties, other men may be found of equal acuteness, of equal subtlety, of equally rapid apprehension, but in combination with such sure and accurate judgment, that capacity has rarely if ever been found. As genius is of universal application, we must suppose that had the accidents of position or of taste directed his studies to the severer sciences, his successful prosecution of those studies would have been as remarkable. But still his legal studies had never suffered any such interruption, and as the law is a jealous mistress, nor easily pardons even any passing infidelity, never any divided affection, it was among the favourable circumstances in which he entered the forum, that his mind had been wholly given to jurisprudence, and was entirely filled with the solid fruits of many years' study. Accordingly his rise was rapid. The very first time that he addressed the Court of King's Bench, every one who heard him was struck with the excellence of his
ment, both in the matter and in the manner, nor entertained the least doubt that the greatest success was his certain portion: his confidence too was unhesitating, unfaltering, because it was founded on a ground which he felt to be solid: but his outward manner made no unbecoming disclosure of this feeling, and was firm, without being presumptuous. But his entire confidence in his own opinion was not even at his first entrance upon the duties of the profession to be shaken by the contrary decision of the judges themselves, and some who sat next him in court, when they determined in opposition to his first argument, well remember his saying in an audible whisper, addressed to himself, "They are going to decide quite wrong as wrong as it is possible for men to decide." This made full as great an impression on those who heard or rather overheard it, as the able argument itself which he had just delivered. judges whom he thus judged were not inferior men; they were the very first in the profession,-Abbott, Bayley, Holroyd, and Littledale. The friend, as he afterwards became, who heard him, said, "that whether he or the court was right, he would insure Follett a thousand a-year." This anecdote Sir W. Follett was fond of repeating.
The rapid success of one so singularly gifted, and devoting himself so exclusively to his profession, was little to be wondered at, but to all admirers of talent, was greatly to be rejoiced in; for, as there is nothing so painful to the generous mind as the sight occasionally exhibited of merit deprived, by accident, of its just distinction, and men of known capacity pining in obscurity, so is there no spectacle more pleasing to contemplate than that of genius reaping without any delay, almost without a struggle, its appropriate reward. To say that Sir William Follett presented himself at the first as fully fitted for his professional duties as he ever after appeared, might perhaps savour