In the writing of this recent blog, which I might have paraphrased Walter Scott and called Tales of a (Great)Grandfather, I took another look down the spines of our old bookshelf and turned up Francis Watt's (1912) Book of Edinburgh Anecdote. Including scandal, witticisms, gossip, apocrypha and often not-terribly-droll tales about the various doings of the city's native tribes of doctors, scribblers, painters, churchmen, lawyers and spooks - yeah unto the middle ages - it begins with a chapter on Parliament House and wigged and gowned creatures which roost on both sides of the bench.
The usual cast are all in attendance. Cantankerous Lord Monboddo, who ardently believed that humans were descended from the beasts of the field, and suspected we had vestigial tails discreetly snipped off by industrious midwives. The caustic polymath, Lord Kames, who immodestly banged out tracts on every subject under the sun, from farming to social development, between his judicial responsibilities in court. And Lord Braxfield, the reactionary, grogblossomed old villain, who presided over the High Court of Justiciary as Lord Justice Clerk, and seems to have felt that a great part of the population would be "none the waur o' a hangin'." Particularly pert young men, with the bad grace to read Thomas Paine to weavers, as the not-terrifically-Jacobinical Thomas Muir learned to his cost.
But there is a nice section devoted to the practice of investing our High Court judges with judicial titles when they are elevated to high judicial office: Lord this - and now Lady that. As regular readers will anticipate, I don't really hold with this kind of frippery. I mean no harm to the learned Lords and Ladies of Council and Session and Senators of the College of Justice, but I can't see how the modest, democratic tag of "judge" would do them any injustice or disrespect.
It is one of the cherished but suspect saws of a kind of Scottish nationalism, that acute class-consciousness is an outgrowth of a more English sensibility and that a more egalitarian rule obtains north of the border. If there is anything to that spirit, the practice of dishing out magic names to senior Scottish judges remains untouched by it. But as Watt writes, this established tradition of "paper lords" of the court is historically considerably patchier than its current solidity and taken-for-grantedness suggests. There's also a nice passage, echoing Dr Johnson's splendid story about the touchy proprietor of the Isle of Muck. Vanity of vanities, sayeth the preacher.
"Now, Scots law lords at one time invariably, and still frequently, take a title from landed estate. This was natural. A judge was a person with some landed property, which was in early times the only property considered as such, and in Scotland, as everybody knows, the man was called after his estate. Monkbarns of the Antiquary is a classic instance, and it was only giving legal confirmation to this, to make the title a fixed one in the case of the judges. They never signed their names this way, and were sometimes sneered at as paper lords. Today, where the relative value of things is altered, they would properly prefer their paper title.
According to tradition, their wives laid claim to a corresponding dignity, but James V, the founder of the College of Justice, sternly repelled the presumptuous dames, with a remark out of keeping with his traditional reputation for gallantry. "He had made the carles lords, but wha the deil made the carlines leddies?" Popular custom was kinder than the King, and they got to be called ladies, till a newer fashion deprived them of the honour.
It was sometimes awkward. A judge and his wife went furth of Scotland, and the exact relations between Lord A. and Mrs. B. gravelled the wits of many an honest landlord. The gentleman and lady were evidently on the most intimate terms, yet how to explain their different names? Of late the powers that be have intervened in the lady's favour, and she has now her title assured her by royal mandate.Once of twice, the territorial designation bore an ugly purport. Jeffrey kept., it is said, his own name, for Lord Craigscrook would never have done. Craig is Scots for neck, and why should a man name himself a hanging judge to start with? This was perhaps too great a concession to the cheap wits of the Parliament House, and perhaps not true, for in Jeffrey's days territorial titles for paper lords were at a discount, so that Lord Cockburn thought they would never revive, but the same thing is said of a much earlier judge.
Fountainhall's Decisions is one of those books that every Scots advocate knows in name, and surely no Scots practising advocate knows in fact. Its author, Sir John Lauder, was a highly successful lawyer of the Restoration, and when his time came to go up there was one fly in the ointment of success. His compact little estate in East Lothian was called Woodhead. Lauder feared not unduly the easy sarcasms of fools, or the evil tongues of an evil time. Territorial title he must have, and he rather neatly solves the difficulty by changing Woodhead to Fountainhall, a euphonious name, which the place still retains."