Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville


by Walter Scott

I am too sensible of the respect due to the Public, especially by one who has already experienced more than ordinary indulgence, to offer any apology for the inferiority of the poetry to the subject it is chiefly designed to commemorate. Yet I think it proper to mention, that while I was hastily executing a work, written for a temporary purpose, and on passing erents, the task was most cruelly interrupted by the successive deaths of Lord President Blair 1, and Lord Viscount Melville. In those distinguished characters, I had not only to regret persons whose lives were most important to Scotland, but also whose notice and patronage honoured my entrance upon active life; and, I may add, with melancholy pride, who permitted my more advanced age to claim no common share in their friendship.

1 [The Right Hon. Robert Blair of Avontoun, President of the Court of Session, was the son of the Rev. Robert Blair, author of " The Grave." After long filling the office of Solicitor-General in Scotland with high distinction, he was elevated to the Presidency in 1808. He died very suddenly on the 20th May 1811, in the 70th year of his age; and his intimate friend, Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville, having gone into Edinburgh on purpose to attend his remains to the grave, was taken ill not less suddenly, and died there the very hour that the funeral took place, on the 28th of the same month.]

The text above references Henry Dundas' death.  But on this day (April 28) in 1742, the future Lord Melville was born.  The family Dundas took to law.  Father Robert Dundas of Arniston served as Lord President of the Court of Sessions, as did Henry's half-brother Robert.

Lord Melville's career was closely tied to that of William Pitt (the Younger), under whom he served as War Secretary (1794-1801), then Treasurer and later First Lord of the Admiralty.  Dundas has the dubious distinction of being the last individual to be tried under articles of impeachment in the House of Lords.  The charges, for which he was acquitted, arose out of his term as Treasurer of the Admiralty.

At his peak, Melville's power was substantial, earning him the nickname "Harry the Ninth, Uncrowned King of Scotland".

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