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The Lighter Side of My Official Life
by Sir Robert Anderson, 1910.
Full text below.


Scheme of the book-Some personal details-French versions of nursery rhymes-Life in Trinity College, Dublin-"The Irish Question": Lord Morris's definition of it-The College Historical Society-A mock criminal trial-The Irish Bench and Bar-Reminiscences and incidents-The Fenian trials in Ireland and in England contrasted.

EVEN in the case of people of distinction an autobiography is too often a blunder. In the case of commonplace folk it is generally an impertinence. And I am not so foolish as to suppose that the public would care to know anything about me save in relation to matters of public interest. Here, however, I am in a difficulty. Having regard to the position I held for so long at Whitehall, and in more recent times at Scotland Yard, I cannot even now write about the Secret Service, or police work in London, save with much reserve and under definite restraints. But it is constantly urged upon me that even the lighter side of official life in these spheres has a fascination for many people, and that I might say not a little which would interest and amuse the public ; and it is with this modest aim therefore that, postponing graver reminiscences" to a future date, I now take up my pen.

By way of introduction I may describe myself as an Anglicanised Irishman of Scotch extraction. My " forebears " were among the Scotch colonists who made Ulster what it is. My only further reference to family history will be to mention that an ancestor of my mother, and an ancestor of my wife's mother, won fame in the siege of Derry-Colonel Gardner in command of royal troops, and Samuel Lee as leader of the " Prentice Boys," the freemen of Derry, to whom the sustained defence of the maiden city was chiefly due. Born and bred in Dublin, my home life in Ireland was interrupted only by two years spent in Franceone year in Boulogne and one in Paris. In view of recent events in France, certain reminiscences of my school days in Boulogne are not without interest. It was then the habit of the children of the lower orders to insult the priests, a practice which indicated the sort of influence that prevailed in their homes. And we English boys fared still worse at their hands. Corbeau was the usual epithet shouted after a priest as he passed along the street ; Sale Anglais, Vaterloo, was the signal for many a scrimmage in which we had to stand on our defence, or not infrequently, I must confess, to bolt.

Of my life in Paris I will not speak, though if I were somebody else about whom I might speak in the third person I should be tempted to tell something of what a schoolboy saw and heard in the French capital in the early days of the Second Empire. And not a little of the chatter of my French playmates might possibly be worth repeating-as, ex. gr., the versions they gave me of some of our English rhymes. Never since have I heard them, nor have I ever seen them in print. Here is a specimen

"Petit bo-bouton
A perdu ses moutons,
Et ne sait pas qui les a pris.
O laissez les tranquilles,
Its viendront en ville,
Et chacun son queue apres lui."

And our old friend Humpty Dumpty is better still

"Umpety Dumpety pendait au mur,
Umpety Dumpety tombait si dur,
Ni tous les chevaux ni les hommes du roi
Mettraient Umpety Dumpety comme autrefois."

But I am forgetting the self-denying ordinance paraded on my opening page.

When I left school, a rich and sonless friend of my father, the owner of one of the famous Dublin breweries, brought me into his business with the generous intention of making my fortune. And I may mention with pardonable pride that within a year I was promoted to be cashier in this great commercial house. But the love of money does not become a passion in the schoolboy stage of life ; and after eighteen months in the office I became increasingly conscious of my deficiencies in "book-learned skill," to borrow Goldsmith's phrase. A Dublin University degree might be obtained without residence, by passing the prescribed examinations, and I appealed to my would-be benefactor to consent to my absenting myself from the office on all examination days. But this he refused, and his refusal led to my abandoning " business." And four years later I was called to the Irish Bar.

I cherish pleasant memories of those years. Religion and politics are the bane of Ireland. But the politicians and the priests had not yet poisoned the life of the country : and in Trinity College Orangemen and Romanists, "ferocious Radicals" and high Tories, mixed together and discussed their differences with the courtesy and kindliness of Irish gentlemen. We learned to give and take, and to respect one another's opinions. This element has always been characteristic of Trinity College, and it is precisely the element which evokes the implacable hostility of Maynooth. There may perhaps be two sides to the Home Rule controversy; and it is possible that if Home Rule had been granted half a century ago it might have proved a success. But there are no two sides to this University question. And the men who are responsible for setting up a University designed to keep Irishmen apart, and to teach them to distrust or despise those who differ from them in religion, will deserve to be pilloried for all time. No greater evil could be inflicted on that unfortunate country. Among " the benefits of a University education " one of the greatest is precisely the element which a sectarian University is intended to eliminate.

But cui bona ? At a certain stage of life people are apt to become slovenly-minded. They "don't want to be bothered." And this is the attitude which England seems now to adopt toward Irish questions. In the scramble for office a philosopher is appointed to govern Ireland. He is followed by a Chief Secretary who belongs (shall I say?) to a different category. In due course the country is naturally reduced to a condition of utter lawlessness and demoralisation. And what is to be done ? The row in the nursery is intolerable: the children are quarrelling and screaming because they cannot get this or that. "Well, let them have whatever they want. We can't have this disgraceful noise." In this parable lies 11 the Irish question." Lord Morris' witty definition of it applies with special aptness to-day. 11 It was," he said, I I the attempt of an honest, stupid people to govern a quick-witted, dishonest people." And this mot applies not only to the two nations but to the men who respectively represent them on the front bench and below the gangway of the House of Commons.

While all my memories of Trinity College are pleasant, the pleasantest are those which relate to the clubs and societies, and first and chiefest to the famous " College Historical "-sister society to the Unions of Oxford and Cambridge. The most distinguished members of the Society were my seniors,' but as my brother was their contemporary I was admitted to the circle of their friendship.

In the Historical Society it was that I acquired any little capacity I possess for public speaking. If, instead of being an utter sceptic, I were credulous enough to accept the biological theories of Spencer and Huxley, I should conclude that the particular " germ " from which my stock was evolved must have wriggled into life at a very late stage of evolutionary processes. For with us the gift of speech is as yet but imperfectly developed. From my father I inherited a natural inaptitude for speaking in public. Well do I remember my first attempt at the " Historical." We met in the great dining-hall of the College. The debate was an important one : the attendance of both members and the public was unusually large, and some of our best speakers had preceded me. I was half sick with nervousness when I rose, and before I was many minutes on my legs the big gasolier, and the distinguished Don who occupied the chair, both began to gyrate round me. My knees began to give way and my head to spin. I could no longer see my notes, and I was on the point of collapsing on the floor, when as an expiring effort I emitted one of my elaborately prepared "impromptus." It evoked a laugh and a cheer. The effect was magical. In an instant the chairman and the gasolier got back into position ; my eyes followed suit, my legs stiffened, and when I sat down I was heartily congratulated on my " maiden speech."

I soon became one of the regular speakers at the weekly debates, and in due course I was elected Auditor (or President) of the Society. The moral of which is that a man can do what he makes up his mind to do. In the morning paper that lies before me as I write, I see a notice of a police charge against a dumb man for using bad language. It reminds me of an answer I once heard my brother give when asked whether he could play the violin : " I don't know," said he, " I never tried " !

My reminiscences of College days are all the happier because they are free from any element to which one need look back with distress or regret. And yet we did some wild things. One such may be worth telling. In those days " Chief Baron Nicholson's " mock court in the " Cider Cellars " was one of the stock amusements of London.' I forget who it was that suggested the scheme of getting up an entertainment of the kind ; but it caught on, and was carried through with great success. Manor Courts were then in existence. A Manor Court had a civil jurisdiction akin to that of the County Courts when first established. And the judge was nominated by the Lord of the Manor. My father was at this time "Seneschal of the Manor of Mary's Abbey," an appointment which he owed to the friendship of Lady Harriet Cowper, the Earl of Blessington's daughter. She, when a school-girl, had been married to Count d'Orsay by her stepmother, the notorious Countess, and was then the wife of Mr. Spencer Cowper, from whom the King's Sandringham estate was afterwards purchased. We decided to make use of my father's court-house for our scheme. Accordingly my brother notified the court-keeper that there would be a special session of the Court on the evening we had fixed upon ; and when we turned up everything was ready, not excepting the presence of a police-constable at the door.

One of our number, who has since attained to fame at the Bar and in Parliament-first in the Commons and later as a Peer-took his place on the bench in borrowed wig and gown ; and a certain divinity student, who afterwards became an Archdeacon, was put upon his trial for an assault of a somewhat disreputable kind. The combination of lying and cunning in the evidence of the witnesses seemed true to the life, and the speeches were marked by eloquence, though not altogether by relevancy. The seats allotted to the public were fairly occupied, for an evening sitting and a criminal trial were unprecedented events. But when the proceedings resulted in the conviction of the accused, and the "Judge" announced that "before d - dealing with the prisoner he really must have a sm - oke," and proceeded to light a cigar, we could hold out no longer, and there was a wild roar of laughter. "In which," as the newspapers would say, "the prisoner heartily joined." The "public" suddenly realised that they had been fooled, and stampeded from the place.

It is characteristic of life in Ireland in those days that we were not taken to task for our escapade. It was never reported or noticed in any way. And the Seneschal of the Manor heard of it for the first time long years afterwards, as he sat by his fireside with his grandchildren playing about his knees.

I have spoken of the liberality and generosity of thought which prevailed in Trinity College. In my time the Roman Catholics at the Irish Bar were, with rare exceptions, Trinity College men, and the same characteristics marked our professional intercourse. In no society that I have ever entered have I known more freedom in the expression of opinion. Hard knocks were sometimes given and received, and there was no lack of banter on what might be deemed delicate ground ; but we took and gave with perfect good-humour.

An incident occurs to me which may illustrate my meaning. At a time when the Papal problem was much in evidence I was sitting in court one day while R. Dowse, Q. C., afterwards a well-known figure in the House of Commons, was arguing a case before a bench of judges, the majority of whom were Catholics. One of their number, judge : Ball, who had already "outlived his usefulness," interrupted with the silly question " But what is a-: clerical error? " Sharp as a pistol-shot came back the answer, " The present position of the Pope in Rome, my lord ! " Dowse was always his own claque, and his ringing laugh was joined in by every man in the court, not excepting Ball's colleagues on the Bench.

Another characteristic of those days was the freedom with which educated Catholics spoke of Maynooth priests. In his judgment in the celebrated Galway election petition of 1872, Mr. Justice Keogh used some very strong language about the conduct of the priests. In the Bar Library in Dublin, one day, Mr. (afterwards Lord) Morris was defending that judgment against the censures of some of his co-religionists. Said one of them : "But, Morris, you would never have called a parish priest 'an obscene monster'? " " I would not," he replied ; "but that's only Keogh's poetry. I would have called him a filthy brute ! "

This was typical. On the closing day of the Londonderry Assizes, in my last year at the Irish Bar, I dined with the judges-Chief Justice Monahan and Chief Baron Pigot-both of whom were Catholics. I was sitting next the Chief Justice, and he asked me what had become of Blank, a "junior " of very plebeian appearance, tastes, and manners. The Chief Baron had consented to his being asked to dine with them on this their last night, but he was not to be found. I hinted that he was probably in company more suited to his proclivities and his morals. He repeated my words to the Chief Baron across the table, and then, turning to me, he added, "Wouldn't Blank have made a fine priest ? "

And yet Monahan was a devout religionist. And I must add that a Protestant landlord fared badly in his court if sued by a Roman Catholic tenant with his priest to back him. In 1867 I was Counsel for Sir Roger Palmer in a case of this kind, with Dowse as my leader ; and as soon as the plaintiff and the priest had given their evidence, he adjourned the case without hearing us or our witnesses, and turning to the jury, he remarked, " And, gentlemen, if they don't settle it we'll know how to deal with them." It was a case that would - never have been brought into court but for Monahan's well-known proclivities ; but I need not, say we "settled " it !

But with him the priest's evidence was vital. In a similar case on a Southern circuit (I can't personally vouch for this story) "his Reverence," though freely quoted, was not called as a witness. Addressing the plaintiff's counsel by the pet name by which he was known to his intimates, Monahan exclaimed, " But, Davie, are you not going to call the priest?" And on receiving a reply in the negative he emitted a sound as nearly resembling a whistle as ever was heard from the-Bench,, and turning to the jury, he said with a nod, " Gentlemen, he won't call the priest."

In that case there was a verdict for the defendant.

Monahan was utterly unconventional. One of his sons was his registrar, and he usually addressed him by his Christian name in open court. Indeed, he always did so when scolding him. I remember once, when the registrar was swearing in a jury, and a well-known member of the Society of Friends failed to comply with the order to "take the book," twice repeated in a peremptory tone, the Chief justice blurted out, D-n your soul, Harry ! don't you see he's a Quaker ? "

This digression, which has resulted from my reference to the Irish University question, would leave a false impression if I did not add that in those days we had great judges in Ireland, and great forensic orators and advocates ; and trials were usually conducted with marked ability and with perfect fairness and dignity. Some modern English judges are in the habit of indulging in comments intended to be humorous in the progress of a case. But this would not be tolerated in Ireland. In my day, at least, a judge who thus played the part of the " bones" in a nigger minstrel troupe would have risked reprisals from the Bar. I recall an instance of the kind. It was an action against a Turkish bath company by a man who fainted in the hot room of the bath, and got badly burnt. "I'll not go there to be burned," the judge exclaimed, while the plaintiff was giving his evidence. ' " No, my lord, you'll wait ! " was the immediate rejoinder of my friend Dowse, who led for the defendants ; and everybody in court roared with laughter at the judge's expense. There were no more "bones" interruptions that day.

Monahan himself was an admirable judge in any case that did not excite his well-known prejudices. Magna Charta precludes the King from delaying justice ; but what the King may not do, judges do habitually by spinning out trials and wantonly granting adjournments that involve the unfortunate litigants in great inconvenience and expense. Monahan had a highly developed faculty for getting at the facts of a case ; and in his court a few hours sufficed for a trial over which his friend the Chief Baron would have spent as many days. And as regards criminal procedure, we had nothing to learn from England. The Fenian trials which followed the outrages at Manchester and Clerkenwell in 1867 contrasted very unfavourably with the State trials in Dublin earlier in that year. Of course the Irish prisoners declaimed against England and English law, but one and all they admitted the fairness with which they had been tried , whereas the Manchester trial was discredited by the conviction of a man who was afterwards proved to be innocent, and the conduct of the Clerkenwell was maxked by still greater incompetence.

As I have told elsewhere, Chief Justice Cockburn was so dissatisfied with it that if I had not been able to relieve his doubts when he came to the Home Office to discuss the question of a reprieve, even Barrett would have escaped the gallows.

That Clerkenwell hanging has historical interest, by the way, as being the last public execution in this country. At Edmund Yates's dinner-table I had a most animated account of it from him and J.C. Parkinson, both of whom were present as journalists on the occasion.