Lord Braxfield: The Jeffreys of Scotland

During the French Revolution, writes Tresham Lever, some political trials took place in Edinburgh for which Lord Braxfield has been intemperately denounced.

There stood in the dock ‘a whey-coloured, misbegotten caitiff, Duncan Jopp, on trial for his life. His story... was one of disgrace and vice and cowardice, the very nakedness of crime...

On the bench there sat my Lord Hermiston.

‘Honest all through, he did not affect the virtue of impartiality... there was a man to be hanged, he would have said, and he was hanging him.’ It was clear he relished his task.

‘He took his ease and jested, unbending in that solemn place with some of the freedom of the tavern; and the rag man with the flannel round his neck was hunted gallowsward with jeers...’ If only there had been the least redeeming greatness in the crime:

‘But the culprit stood with his sore throat, in the sweat of his mortal agony, without defence or excuse: a thing to cover up with blushes: and being so much sunk beneath the zones of sympathy that mercy might seem harmless.

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