LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Scottish Lawyers

Vol. I. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Introductory
Ch. 2: Childhood
Ch. 3: Boyhood
Ch. 4: London
Ch. 5: Companions
Ch. 6: The Cypher
Ch. 7: Edinburgh
Ch. 8: Edinburgh
Ch. 9: Excursion
Ch. 10: Naval Services
Ch. 11: Periodical Press
Ch. 12: Periodical Press
Ch. 13: Past Times
Ch. 14: Past Times
Ch. 15: Literary
Ch. 16: War & Jubilees
Ch. 17: The Criminal
Ch. 18: Mr. Perceval
Ch. 19: Poets
Ch. 20: The Sun
Ch. 21: Sun Anecdotes
Ch. 22: Paris in 1814
Ch. 23: Paris in 1814
Ch. 24: Byron
Vol. I. Appendices
Scott Anecdote
Burns Anecdote
Life of Thomson
John Stuart Jerdan
‣ Scottish Lawyers
Sleepless Woman
Canning Anecdote
Southey in The Sun
Hood’s Lamia
Murder of Perceval
Vol. II. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Literary
Ch. 2: Mr. Canning
Ch. 3: The Sun
Ch. 4: Amusements
Ch. 5: Misfortune
Ch. 6: Shreds & Patches
Ch. 7: A Character
Ch. 8: Varieties
Ch. 9: Ingratitude
Ch. 10: Robert Burns
Ch. 11: Canning
Ch. 12: Litigation
Ch. 13: The Sun
Ch. 14: Literary Gazette
Ch. 15: Literary Gazette
Ch. 16: John Trotter
Ch. 17: Contributors
Ch. 18: Poets
Ch 19: Peter Pindar
Ch 20: Lord Munster
Ch 21: My Writings
Vol. II. Appendices
The Satirist.
Authors and Artists.
The Treasury
Morning Chronicle
Chevalier Taylor
Foreign Journals
Vol. III. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Literary Pursuits
Ch. 2: Literary Labour
Ch. 3: Poetry
Ch. 4: Coleridge
Ch 5: Criticisms
Ch. 6: Wm Gifford
Ch. 7: W. H. Pyne
Ch. 8: Bernard Barton
Ch. 9: Insanity
Ch. 10: The R.S.L.
Ch. 11: The R.S.L.
Ch. 12: L.E.L.
Ch. 13: L.E.L.
Ch. 14: The Past
Ch. 15: Literati
Ch. 16: A. Conway
Ch. 17: Wellesleys
Ch. 18: Literary Gazette
Ch. 19: James Perry
Ch. 20: Personal Affairs
Vol. III. Appendices
Literary Poverty
Ismael Fitzadam
Mr. Tompkisson
Mrs. Hemans
A New Review
Debrett’s Peerage
Procter’s Poems
Poems by Others
Poems by Jerdan
Vol. IV. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Critical Glances
Ch. 2: Personal Notes
Ch. 3: Fresh Start
Ch. 4: Thomas Hunt
Ch. 5: On Life
Ch. 6: Periodical Press
Ch. 7: Quarterly Review
Ch. 8: My Own Life
Ch. 9: Mr. Canning
Ch. 10: Anecdotes
Ch. 11: Bulwer-Lytton
Ch. 12: G. P. R. James
Ch. 13: Finance
Ch. 14: Private Life
Ch. 15: Learned Societies
Ch. 16: British Association
Ch. 17: Literary Characters
Ch. 18: Literary List
Ch. 19: Club Law
Ch. 20: Conclusion
Vol. IV. Appendix
Gerald Griffin
W. H. Ainsworth
James Weddell
The Last Bottle
N. T. Carrington
The Literary Fund
Letter from L.E.L.
Geographical Society
Baby, a Memoir
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
E, p. 54.

Almost every member of the College of Justice, however great as lawyers and learned as scholars, was at and a little before this period, noted for some peculiarity of character, if not for eccentricity. They had finished their education about the time George the Third began to reign, and that was a rough and strange time all over Scotland. Their confined studies had not thrown them into the converse of the general world, to enlarge their views and modify their opinions; and, consequently, whatever was original in them grew with their growth and strengthened with their years. The annexed humourous picture of their oddities and modes of expression can hardly be called caricature. It was ascribed to an estimable and polished advocate, who has succeeded to a seat on the same bench which they occupied, and on which his associates have been Jeffrey, Cockburn, Robertson, and other distinguished men. The jeu d’ esprit purports to be “Notes taken at advising the action of Damages and Defamation, Alexander C——m (Cunningham), Jeweller, in Edinburgh, against Mr. James R——ll (Russell), surgeon there. By G. C. (Cranstoun) Esq.” and the judgment, pronounced seriatim, is so intrinsically droll that no lapse of years can impair its humour, especially if considered generally applicable to the legal verbiage and straw-splitting which mars the course of justice, and a lively and accurate sketch of a state of things that can never be seen again. The series begins with Lord President Campbell, who would reverse Lord Balmuto’s (the Lord Ordinary’s) decision, and declares:—*

* The second speaker is Lord Meadowbank, the third Lord Hermand, the fourth Cuming (I think), the fifth Balmuto, the sixth Woodhouselee, the seventh J. C. R. (Lord Methuen), the eighth Polkemmet.


“Your Lordships have Petition of Alex. Cunningham against Lord B——s Interlocutor. It is a case of Defamation and Damages for calling the Petitioner’s Diamond Beetle an Egyptian Louse.

“You have the Lord Ordinary’s very distinct Interlocutor on pages 29 and 30 of the petition: ‘Having considered the condescendence of the Pursuer, answers for the Defendant, and so on, finds in respect it is not alleged that the diamonds on the back of the Diamond Beetle are real diamonds, or any thing but shining spots, such as are found on other Diamond Beetles, which likewise occur, though in a smaller number of other Beetles, somewhat different from the Beetle libelled, similar to which there may be Beetles in Egypt, with shining spots on their backs, which may be termed Lice there, and may be different not only from the common Louse mentioned by Moses as one of the plagues of Egypt, which is admitted to be a filthy, troublesome Louse, even worse than the said Louse which is clearly different from the Louse libelled; but the other Louse is the same with or similar to the said Beetle, which is also the same with the other Beetle, and although different from the said Beetle libelled, yet as the same Beetle is similar to the other Beetle, and the said Louse to said Beetle, and the said Beetle to the other Louse libelled, and the said Louse to the other Beetle, which is the same with or similar to the Beetle which somewhat resembles the Beetle libelled, assoilzes the Defender, and finds expences due.’

Say away, my Lords.

Lord M—b—k. “This is a very intricate and puzzling question, my Lord. I have formed no decided opinion, but at present I am rather inclined to think the Interlocutor is right, though not upon the ratio assigned in it. It appears to me there are two points for consideration: 1st. Whether the words libelled amount to a convicium against the Beetle. 2d. Admitting the convicium, whether the Pursuer is entitled to found upon it in this action.

“Now, my Lord, if there be a convicium at all, it consists in the comparatio, or comparison of the Scarabæus, or Beetle, with the Egyptian Pediculus, or Louse. The first doubt regards this point, but it is not at all founded on what the Defender alleges,
that there is no such animal as an Egyptian Pediculus in rerum natura; for though it does not actually exist, it may possibly exist, and whether its existence is in esse or posse is the same to this question, provided there be termini habiles for ascertaining what it would be if it did exist. But my doubt lies here—How am I to discover what is the essentia of any Louse, whether Egyptian or not? It is very easy to describe it by its accidents as a naturalist, Aptera (or that it is a little, filthy, yellow, greedy, despicable reptile); but we do not learn from this what the proprium of the animal is in a logical sense, and still less what are its differentia. Now without these it is impossible to judge whether there is a convicium or not; for in a case of this kind, which sapit natuvam delicti, we must take the words in meliori sensu, and presume the comparatio to be in melioribus tantum. And I here beg that the parties, and the bar, and general—(Interrupted by
Lord H—m—d,—‘Your Lordship should address yourself to the chair.’) I say, my Lord, I beg it may be understood that I do not rest my opinion upon the ground that Veritas convicii excusat: I am clear that although the Beetles actually were an Egyptian Pediculus, it would afford no relevant defence, providing the calling it so were a convicium; and there my doubt lies.

“With regard to the 2d point, I am satisfied that the Scarabæus, or Beetle himself, has no persona standi in judicio, and therefore the Pursuer cannot insist in the name of the Scarabæus, or for his behoof. If the action lies at all, it must be at the instance of the Pursuer himself, as the Verus Dominus of the Scarabæus, for being calumniated through the convicium directed principally against the animal standing in that relation to him. Now abstracting from the qualification of an actual damnum, which is not alleged, I have great doubts whether a mere convicium is necessarily transmitted from one object to another through the relation of a damnum subsisting between them; and if not necessarily transmissible, we must see the principle of its actual transmission here, and that has not yet been pointed out.

Lord H—m—d. “We heard a little ago, my Lord, that this is a difficult case. I have not been fortunate enough, for my own part, to find out where the difficulty lies. Will any man
presume to tell me that a Beetle is not a Beetle, and that a Louse is not a Louse? I never saw the Petitioner’s Beetle, and what is more, I don’t care whether I ever see it or not; but I suppose it’s like other Beetles, and that’s enough for me.

“But, my Lord, I know the other reptile well. I have seen them, my Lord—I have felt them ever since I was a child in my mother’s arms; and my mind tells me that nothing but the deepest and blackest malice rankling in the human heart could have suggested this comparison, or led any man to form a thought so injurious and insulting. But, my Lord, there is more here than all that—a great deal more. One would think that the Defender could have gratified his spite to the full by comparing this Beetle to a common Louse—an animal sufficiently vile and abominable for the purpose of defamation.—Shut that outer door there.—He adds, my Lord, the epithet ‘Egyptian.’ I well know what he means by that epithet—he means, my Lord, a Louse which has fattened in the head of a gipsy or tinker, undisturbed by the comb, and unmolested in the enjoyment of its native filth. He means a Louse ten times larger and ten times more abominable than those with which your Lordship or I am familiar. The Petitioner asks redress for this injury so atrocious and so aggravated, and as far as my voice goes, he shall not ask it in vain.

Lord C——g. “I am of the opinion last delivered. It appears to me slanderous and calumnious to compare a Diamond Beetle to the filthy and mischievous animal libelled. By an Egyptian Louse I understand one which has been found in the head of a native Egyptian, a race of men who, after degenerating for many centuries, have sunk at last into the abyss of depravity in consequence of having been subjugated for a time by the French. I do not find that Turgot, or Condorcet, or the rest of the economists, ever reckoned combing the head a species of productive labour. I conclude, therefore, that wherever French principles have been propagated, lice grow to an immoderate size, especially in a warm climate like that of Egypt. I shall only add, that we ought to be sensible of the blessings we enjoy under a free and happy Constitution, where Lice and men live under the restraints of equal laws—the only equality that can exist in a well-regulated state.


Lord B—l—to. “Awm for refusing the petition. There more Lice nor Beetles in Fife. They call Beetles Clokes there. I thought when I read the petition, that the Beetle, or Bettle, had been the thing that the women has when they are washing towels or napery, and things for dadding them with. And I see this Petitioner is a jeweller till his trade, and I thought that he had made one of thir Beetles, and set it all round with diamonds, and I thought it an extravagant and foolish idea; and I see no resemblance it could have to a Louse. But I find I was mistaken, my Lord, and I find it is only a Beetle Cloke the Petitioner has; but my opinion’s the same it was before. I say, my Lord, Awm for refusing the petition I say.

L—d W—se—lee. “There is a case abridged in the third Volume of the Dictionary of Decisions, (Chalmers versus Douglas,) in which it was found that Veritas convicii excusat, which may be rendered not literally, but in a free and spirited manner, according to the most approved principles of translation, ‘The truth of a calumny affords a relevant defence.’ If, therefore, it be the law of Scotland, which I am clearly of opinion it is, that the truth of a calumny affords a relevant defence; and if it be likewise true that the Diamond Beetle is really an Egyptian Louse, I am really inclined to conclude, though certainly the case is attended with difficulty, that the Defender ought to be assoilzied.—Refuse.

Lord J. C. R—s. “I am very well acquainted with the Defender in this action, and have a great respect for him, and esteem him likewise. I know him to be a skilful and expert surgeon, and also a good man, and I would do a great deal to serve him, or to be of use to him, if I had it in my power to do so; but I think on this occasion that he has spoken rashly, and, I fear, foolishly and improperly. I hope he had no bad intention—I am sure he had not. But the Petitioner, for whom I have likewise a great respect, has a Clock, or a Beetle—I think it is called a Diamond Beetle—which he is very fond of, and has a fancy for; and the Defender has compared it to a Louse, or a Bug, or a Flea, or something of that kind, with a view to make it despicable or ridiculous, and the Petitioner so likewise, as the proprietor or owner of it. It is said that this beast is a Louse in fact, and that the Veritas convicii excusat.
And mention is made of a decision in the case of Chalmers against Douglas. I have always had a great veneration for the decisions of your Lordship, and I am sure will always continue to have while I sit here; hut that case was determined by a very small majority, and I have heard your Lordships mention it on various occasions, and you have always desiderated the propriety of it, and I think have departed from it in some instances. I remember the circumstances of the case very well. Helen Chalmers lived in Musselburgh, and the Defender, Mrs. Baillie, lived in Fisher Row. And at that time there was much intercourse between the genteel inhabitants of Musselburgh, and Fisher Row, and Inveresk, and Newbigging; and there were balls, or dances, or assemblies, every fortnight, and also sometimes, I believe, every week. And there were likewise card-assemblies once a fortnight, or oftener, and the young people danced there also, and others played at cards; and there were various refreshments, such as tea and coffee, and butter and bread, and I believe, but I am not sure, porter and negus, and likewise small-beer. And it was at one of these assemblies that Mrs. Baillie called Mrs. Chalmers a ——, or an adultress, and said she had lain with Commissioner Carnel, a gentleman whom I knew well at one time, and had a great deal of respect for;—he is dead many years ago. And Mrs. Chalmers brought an action of defamation before the Commissaries, and it came by advocation into this Court; and your Lordships allowed a proof of the Veritas convicii, and it lasted a long time, and answered in the end no good purpose even to the Defender himself, while it did much harm to the character of the Pursuer.

“I am, therefore, for refusing such a proof in this case; and I think the Petitioner and his Beetle have been slandered, and the petition ought to be seen.

Lord P—k—t. “It should be observed, my Lords, that what is called a Beetle is a reptile well known in this country. I have seen mony a ane o’ them on Drumsherlin Muir. It’s a little black beastie about the size o’ my thoom-nail. The countrypeople ca’ them Cloks, and I believe they ca’ them also Maggy wi’ the mony feet. But this is no the least like any Louse I ever saw; so that in my opinion, though the Defender may
have made a blunder through ignorance in comparing them, there does not seem to me to have been any animus injurandi; therefore I am for refusing the petition, my Lord.

Lord M—n. If I understand this—a—a—a—Interlocutor, it is not said that the—a—a—Egyptian Lice are Beetles, but that they may be, or—a—a—a—resemble Beetles. I am, therefore, for sending this process to the Ordinary to ascertain that fact, as I think it depends upon that whether there be—a—a—a—convicium or not. I think also that the Petitioner should be ordained to—a—a—a—produce his Beetle, and the a—a—a—Defender an Egyptian Louse; and if he has not one, he should take a diligence—a—a—a—to recover Lice of various kinds, and these may be—a—a—a—remitted to—a—a—a—Dr. Monro, or to—a—a—a—Mr. Playfair, or to other naturalists, to report upon the subject.”—Agreed to.