The Gentleman's Magazine (Vol. 198, Sept 1855)

Source Information

  • Title The Gentleman's Magazine (Vol. 198, Sept 1855) 
    Short Title The Gentleman's Magazine 
    Source ID S4 
    Text William Selwyn, Esq., Q.C.

    July 25 At Tunbridge Wells in his 81st year William Selwyn esq one of the oldest of Her Majesty's Counsel.

    The family of Selwyn has long been connected with the law. One of their ancestors, Jasper Selwyn, was admitted of Lincoln's Inn in the 26th year of Queen Elizabeth's reign, and was twice Treasurer of the Inn; and his name and arms appear in the west window of the chapel as those of a contributor to the building, which was consecrated in 1623.

    The name of Selwyn is known also in the records of the army. Major General Selwyn, who held the office of Governor of Jamaica, at the beginning of the last century and who was the great-grandfather of the subject of this memoir, had three sons, all of whom were in the army, and one of them, Colonel John Selwyn, was Aide-de-Camp to the Duke of Marlborough.

    Of the same family was George Augustus Selwyn, the celebrated wit.

    The father of the late Mr Selwyn was King's Counsel, and also filled the office of Treasurer of Lincoln's Inn.

    Of his two sons George the elder obtained honours at Cambridge, and died early.

    WILLIAM, the second son, was sent at the age of 10 to Eton, where he was distinguished by regularity of conduct and proficiency in classical studies. It may also be mentioned that he was one of the eleven of the school in the good old English game of cricket, the love of which he retained even to his last days.

    In 1793 he proceeded to St John's, Cambridge, but in his second year removed to Trinity, having no hope of a fellowship at St John's, the whole number being then appropriated to particular counties. His chief attention was devoted to classical studies, but on taking his B.A. degree in 1797 he appeared as a Senior Optime in Mathematics and was first of his year in Classics, obtaining the first Chancellor's medal.

    During this period his portrait was painted by Romney, and still exists as a pleasing specimen of the painter's skill, and a memorial of the handsome and ingenuous countenance of the young student.

    He resigned without a contest his claim to a fellowship, in favour of other candidates whose circumstances made the possession of that reward more necessary to them. He was admitted of Lincoln's Inn in 1797, his father being then Treasurer.

    He was called to the Bar in 1807 and joined the Western Circuit, where, after the lapse of many years since he retired, his memory is still cherished. In 1806 he published the First Part of that useful work, which is the best monument of his diligence and sound knowledge of the law, "Selwyn's Nisi Prius" and which, in eleven successive editions, has been the constant companion of every barrister in chambers and on circuit for nearly half a century.

    He was also, for some time, in conjunction with Mr Maule, the reporter of cases decided in the Court of King's Bench, of which six volumes were published, under the title of Maule and Selwyn's Reports.

    Mr Selwyn for many years held the office of Recorder of Portsmouth. In 1827 he was appointed a King's Counsel, under the chancellorship of Lord Lyndhurst. Before he attained this honour, he had been the champion of the outer bar, and protested against the rule laid down by Lord Tenterden and the Court of King's Bench, that in certain cases only one counsel should be heard on each side, expressing his regret that he should be the first victim of a rule so injurious to the outer bar.

    He was Treasurer of Lincoln's Inn in 1840, and that society, and particularly the junior members of it, are indebted to his zeal and patience for many useful improvements.

    Soon after the marriage of Her Majesty, H.R.H. Prince Albert, being desirous of becoming better acquainted with the constitution and laws of the country of his adoption, was advised to select Mr Selwyn to assist him in his studies.

    The tenth edition of Selwyn's Nisi Prius was dedicated, by permission "ALBERTO PRINCIPI LEGUM ANGLIAE STUDIOSO".

    Mr. Selwyn succeeded to the estate of his father, at Richmond, Surrey, in 1817, and resided there during the latter years of his life, taking great interest in the charities of the place.

    He had, for some years, suffered under occasional visitations of a painful disorder, and the increasing effects of what he was wont to call morbus senectutis, which led him to spend a portion of every year in the pure invigorating air of Brighton, and of Tunbridge Wells. At both these places he enjoyed the social converse of his friends, and was often seen on the cricket ground when any interesting match was played, watching eagerly the favourite sport of his youth.

    Though weak in body, the faculties of his mind remained clear and vigorous to the last; and the evening of his life was spent in the calm enjoyment of his choice collection of ancient and modern literature. In him was truly exemplified the saying of Cicero, "Haec studia adolacentiam alunt, senectutem obleclant"; in conjunction with which he would often quote the beautiful remarks of Hallam on the later years of Milton's life. (Literature of Europe, vol. iv. c. 5, s. 31):

    "Then it was that the muse was truly his; not only as she poured her creative inspiration into his mind, but as the daughter of memory, coming with fragments of ancient melodies, the voice Euripides, and Homer, and Tasso: sounds that he had loved in youth, and treasured up for the solace of his age... I know not whether an education that deals much with poetry, such as is still usual in England, has any more solid argument among many in its favour, than that it lays the foundation of intellectual pleasures at the other extreme of life."

    Mr. Selwyn's memory was richly stored with the choicest passages of his favourite authors, and with anecdotes of past times, which, together with his unfailing cheerfulness, rendered his conversation lively and animating. Not a word escaped his lips which could give pain to another. His frequent sallies of wit and humour bore witness to the gentleness of his temper and the purity of a mind which had been, from its earliest years, under the chastening influences of a true and earnest faith. Surrounded by all the members of his family (one only being absent, the Bishop of New Zealand, at whose hands he had partaken of the Holy Communion a few months since,) he gently sank to his rest with earnest prayers and full of hope; and with the calmness and resignation of a Christian, whose life had been a preparation for death. Qualis vita finis ita.

    By his own desire he was buried privately at Rusthall church, near Tunbridge Wells, on Monday July 30. In 1801 he married Laetitia-Frances, daughter of Thomas Kynaston, esq. of Witham, Essex, by whom he had nine children.

    Three of his children died in childhood; and one son, Thomas Kynaston Selwyn, Scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge, after obtaining the Newcastle Scholarship at Eton, and the first Chancellor's Medal at Cambridge, died in 1834 aged 22. The surviving members of his family are three sons, viz.: 1. William Selwyn, of St John's College, Cambridge, Canon of Ely, and Lady Margaret's Reader in Divinity; 2. George-Augustus of St John's College, Cambridge, Bishop of New Zealand; 3. Charles-Jasper, of Trinity College, Cambridge, and of the Chancery bar, and Commissary of the University of Cambridge; two daughters Laetitia-Frances, the constant companion of her father in his later years, and Frances-Elizabeth married to the Very Rev. George Peacock Dean of Ely. 
    Linked to William Selwyn, QC 

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