Henry Peter Brougham Brougham And Vaux, 1st Baron (1778-1868), lord chancellor of England, was born at Edinburgh on the 19th of September 1778. He was the eldest son of Henry Brougham and Eleanora, daughter of the Rev. James Syme. In his later years he was wont to trace his paternal descent to Uduardus de Broham, in the reign of Henry II., but no real connexion has been established between the ancient lords of Brougham castle, whose inheritance passed by marriage from the Viponts into the family of the De Cliffords, and the Broughams of Scales Hall, from whom the chancellor was really descended. Entering the high school of Edinburgh when barely seven, he left, having risen to be head of the school, in 1791. He entered the university of Edinburgh in 1792, and devoted himself chiefly to the study of natural science and mathematics, contributing in 1795 a paper to the Royal Society on some new phenomenon of light and colours, which was printed in the Transactions of that body. A paper on porisms was published in the same manner in 1798, and in 1803 his scientific reputation was so far established that he was elected F.R.S., But in spite of his taste for mathematical reasoning, Brougham's mind was not an accurate or exact one; and his pursuit of physical science was rather a favourite recreation than a solid advantage to him.
For two years of his university career he had attended lectures in civil law, and having adopted law as a profession he was admitted to the faculty of advocates in 1800. It does not appear that he ever held a brief in the court of session, but he went a circuit or two, where he defended or prosecuted a few prisoners, and played a series of tricks on the presiding judge, Lord Eskgrove, which almost drove that learned person to distraction. The Scottish bar, however, as he soon perceived, offered no field sufficiently ample for his talents and his ambition. He resolved to go to London, where he had already appeared as junior counsel in a Scottish appeal to the House of Lords. In 1803 he entered at Lincoln's Inn, and in 1808 he was called to the English bar. In the meantime he had turned to literature as a means of subsistence. When in 1802 the Edinburgh Review was founded by the young and aspiring lights of the northern metropolis, Brougham was the most ready, the most versatile and the most satirical of all its contributors. To the first twenty numbers he contributed eighty articles, wandering through every imaginable subject, - science, politics, colonial policy, literature, poetry, surgery, mathematics and the fine arts.
The prodigious success of the Review, and the power he was known to wield in it, made him a man of mark from his first arrival in London. He obtained the friendship of Lord Grey and the leading Whig politicians. His wit and gaiety made him an ornament of society, and he sought to extend his literary and political reputation by the publication of an elaborate work on the colonial policy of the empire. In 1806, Fox being then in office, he was appointed secretary to a mission of Lord Rosslyn and Lord St Vincent to the court of Lisbon, with a view to counteract the anticipated French invasion of Portugal. The mission lasted two or three months; Brougham came home out of humour and out of pocket; and meantime the death of Fox put an end to the hopes of the Whigs.
Brougham was disappointed by the abrupt fall of the ministry, and piqued that his Whig friends had not provided him with a seat in parliament. Nevertheless, he exerted his pen with prodigious activity during the election of 1809; and Lord Holland declared that he had filled the booksellers' shops with articles and pamphlets. The result was small. No seat was placed at his disposal, and he was too poor to contest a borough. He was fortunate at this time to ally himself with the movement for the abolition of the slave-trade, and he remained through life not only faithful, but passionately attached to the cause. Indeed, one of the first measures he carried in the House of Commons was a bill to make the slave-trade felony, and he had the happiness, as chancellor of England, to take a part in the final measure of negro emancipation throughout the colonies.
Previous to his entering on practice at the English bar, Brougham had acquired some knowledge of international law, and some experience of the prize courts. This circumstance probably led to his being retained as counsel for the Liverpool merchants who had petitioned both Houses of Parliament against the Orders in Council. Brougham conducted the lengthened inquiry which took place at the bar of the House, and he displayed on this occasion a mastery over the principles of political economy and international law which at that time was rare. Nevertheless, he was unsuccessful, and it was not until 1812, when he was himself in parliament, that he resumed his attack on the Orders in Council, and ultimately conquered. It was considered inexpedient and impossible that a man so gifted, and so popular as Brougham had now become, should remain out of parliament, and by the influence of Lord Holland the duke of Bedford was induced to return him to the House of Commons for the borough of Camelford. He took his seat early in 1810, having made a vow that he would not open his mouth for a month. The vow was kept, but kept for that month only. He spoke in March in condemnation of the conduct of Lord Chatham at Walcheren, and he went on speaking for the rest of his life.
In four months, such was the position he had acquired in the House that he was regarded as a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal party, then in the feeble hands of George Ponsonby. However, the Tories continued in power. Parliament was dissolved. Camelford passed into other hands. Brougham was induced to stand for Liverpool, with Thomas Creevey against Canning and General Gascoyne. The Liberals were defeated by a large majority, and what made the sting of defeat more keen was that Creevey retained his old seat for Thetford, while Brougham was left out in the cold.