ページの画像
PDF
ePub

perty, will be much augmented when it is known that he was one of those who, in the commencement of their professional career, have had to struggle with the res angusta domi, and overleap “poverty's unconquerable bar.” But the circumstance was far more honorable to him than to those who have merely surmounted the obstacle of poverty. This will be shown by the following fact, which it has been justly remarked 1) may be looked on as the blossom of that independence and generosity which distinguished him through life. His father, besides being at a great expense for his education, presented him on his entrance into the Temple with a few hundred pounds, to purchase chambers and books; yet generously overlooking these circumstances, left his fortune, which was inconsiderable, to be equally partitioned between our author and a younger brother and sister. The former, however, sensible how much the family property had been wasted on his account, nobly refused the advantage of the will, and gave up the whole residue to the other children. “My father” said he, “ by taking such uncommon pains with my education, no doubt meant that it should be my whole dependence; and if that won't bring me through, a few hundred pounds will be a matter of no consequence.”:

Those who know the absorbing nature of legal studies, when pushed to the extreme essential to success, or rather to eminence, will learn with surprise, that Mr. Fearne was not merely a general scholar, but "profoundly versed in mathematics, chemistry, and mechanics. He had obtained a patent for dyeing scarlet; and had solicited one for a preparation of porcelain. He had composed a treatise in the Greek language on the Greek accent : another on the retreat of the ten thousand.3

The following circumstance, while it shews the versatility of his talents, and the variety of his pursuits, will evince from how low a situation he climbed to the eminence which he subsequently attained. A friend of the reminiscent (says Mr. Butler in his Reminiscences) having communicated to an

1 Percy Anecdotes, (Bar) 159.

Chalm. XIV. 160. We are glad to say, that the brother and sister, who were equally amiable and delicate, were both of them afterwards happily settled. 3 Butler's Rem. vol. i. 118.

4 Ibid.

eminent gunsmith a project of a musket, of greater power and much less size than that in ordinary use, the gunsmith pointed out to him its defects, and observed, that “a Mr. Fearne, an obscure law-man, in Breames' Buildings, Chancery Lane, had invented a musket, which, although defective, was much nearer to the attainment of the object.”

Great attainments are sometimes the fruit of plodding and habitual industry, which, being unaccompanied by native comprehensiveness of mind, not unfrequently loses the end in the means; but they are sometimes the result of that fervid thirst of knowledge, and love of honourable distinction, which distinguish superior minds ; and it is then that they become objects of rational admiration. That Mr. Fearne belonged to the latter class, that it was an ardent temperament which carried him forward in the pursuit of information and professional character, will appear from the following fact, recorded by his friend Mr. Butler. He told that gentleman, that when he resolved to dedicate himself to the study of the law, he burned his profane library, and wept over its flames; and that the works which he most regretted, were the Homilies of St. John Chrysostom to the People of Antioch, and the Comedies of Aristophanes.1 When men, remarkable for great attainments and love of literature, resolve to apply almost exclusively to a rugged, and, as they may deem it, a barren science, the sacrifice is always great; and if they are likewise ardent and sensitive, as Mr. Fearne appears to have been, it is keenly felt. His burning the compositions which he valued, may appear to vulgar minds simply an act of caprice or folly; but in the imposition of a painful, perhaps an unnecessary, restriction, those who are better acquainted with human nature, recognise that devotedness which indicates the energy of a concentrating mind, and the ardour of a generous ambition.

It was, however, a misfortune which first induced our author to revert to his original profession, with unremitting diligence. In his practice of experimental philosophy, he fancied that he had discovered the art of dyeing morocco leathers of particular colours, and after a new process. It appears, that the Maroquoniers in the Levant (who are called so from dressing the skin of this goat, named the Maroquin) keep a secret those ingredients which give their liquor its fine red. This secret, or what would answer equally well, Fearne thought he had found ; and like most projectors, saw great profit in the discovery. It was his unlucky connection in this scheme with a needy and expensive partner, which opened his eyes to the fallacy of his hopes, and restored him to the law. 1

1 Butler's Rem., vol. i. 119.

He had not long been in chambers, when his habits of study, diligence, and sobriety, were observed ; and the extremely able manner in which he arranged and abstracted an intricate set of papers for an eminent attorney in the Temple, first gave him business. ? After, however, he had established his reputation, and could have commanded what business he pleased as à chamber counsel, he resolved not entirely to throw up his original pursuits, and accordingly contracted his practice within a compass just sufficient for his wants. The time which he denied to increase of business, he generally spent at his house at Hampstead, and devoted to experimental philosophy. He made some optical glasses on a new construction, which have been deemed improvements; formed a machine for transposing the keys in music; and gave many useful hints in the dyeing of cottons and other stuffs. These he called his dissipations ; and with some truth, as the frequent dereliction of his professional employments certainly obstructed his advancement, while his unintermitting application to study seriously impaired his health. His conduct, with respect to his philosophical experiments and mechanical inventions, evinced the elevation of his sentiments and generosity of his disposition; the first of them he freely communicated to men of similar pursuits; and the latter, when completed, he as liberally gave away to poor artists or dealers in those articles.

He was not, however, without less intellectual recreations. We have heard from a gentleman, acquainted with the habits of this singular man, that when he could quit the metropolis,

2 lbid.

i Chalmer's B. D. xiv. 160.

Chalm. ubi sup.

his favourite resort was the sea-coast, where he amused himself with his boat, and frequently remained till the calls of business became pressing. He would then at once shake off his indolence, vigourously apply himself to his papers, and despatch them with astonishing rapidity.

Dialectics appear to have been his favourite study, and after he became engaged in business, he delighted to apply his refined logic to legal topics. This is evinced by his arguments in the very singular cause of the representatives of General Stanwir and his daughter ; in which a father and his daughter were cast away in the same vessel, and not a person on board was saved, and the question was, which should be presumed to have died first. This case, which seemed to mock every principle of judicial decision, was brought before the court of Chancery, in the year 1772,4 and met with a singular discussion. In the arguments which Mr. Shadwell published in Mr. Fearne's posthumous works, it was (that gentleman tells us) our author's intention to try what could be advanced on it with some appearance

of reason. But he was not actuated by a parade of logical ingenuity. The compositions adverted to were never shown by the author but to a few select friends. They were merely a work of amusement.2

Mr. Fearne's general indifference to pecuniary emolument, the absorption of his time by scientific pursuits, and (we believe) the failure of some mechanical speculation which his philosophical discoveries had induced him to form, clouded the evening of his days. Like Lord Bacon, and from a similar cause (in part), he died poor. The profession, however, were gainers by that event, as but for it they would probably have never been presented with his valuable posthuma, which were published by Mr. Shadwell for the benefit of Mrs. Fearne.

The professional character of Mr. Fearne stands almost without a rival. His essay on the most abstruse doctrine of the law of real property, “ Contingent Remainders and Executory Devises,” is generally considered as a most beautiful

2 See

1 Reported in 1 Bl. Rep. 640.

Mer. 308. 2 January 21, 1784, ætat 45, worn out, it is said, in mind and body.

combination of logical accuracy and profound legal learning.1 And these are not its only merits. The style of it, which is peculiar, not to say original, has not merely perspicuity and exactness, but much vivacity and elegance; and the complete success it met with, is a striking proof how effectively subservient literature and science may be to the illustration of the most abstruse departments of our law. The last edition of this work, by Mr. Butler, is not, in our opinion, altogether worthy of his great abilities. The repetition of the propositions of the text at the bottom of the page, almost totidem verbis, answers no useful purpose ; and there are, we think, some glaring inaccuracies in his numerical analysis.

The logical groundwork of the Essay on Contingent Remainders, even to the definition and primary classification of the topics, we must, however, presume to question. We cannot but think that its author was somewhat hasty in the assumption of his premises. For example, he defines a contingent remainder to be “a remainder limited so as to depend on an event or condition, which may never happen or be performed, or which may not happen or be performed till after the determination of the preceding estate.” But a little reflection will show that this definition does not comprise remainders contingent merely on account of the person ;-as in a limitation to two for life, remainder to the survivor of them; where there is no contingent event or condition, but a present capacity in the remainder to take effect in possession when-, ever the particular estate determines by the death of the first of them. We would accordingly define a contingent remainder to be a remainder which is limited to a person who is not ascertainable at the time of the limitation, or which is referred for its vesting or taking effect in interest, to an event which may not happen till after the determination of the particular estate. We shall also presume to attack Mr. Fearne’s classification; and our objections are two-fold. First, that as it comprises that class of remainders, which are contingent only on account of the person, it does not fall within his own defini

· Not being a professional man (observes the late Doctor Parr, in a letter to Mr. Butler, vol. ii. of that gentleman's Reminiscences,) I was continually foiled by the Essay on Contingent Remainders. But I saw enough to convince me that his powers of reasoning were gigantic.

« 前へ次へ »