Lord Cockburn: The Letters

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Born and educated in Edinburgh, he became an advocate in 1800 and gained a reputation for persuasive handling of seemingly desperate cases, most famously that of Helen MacDougall, common law wife of the body-snatcher William Burke, in 1828. Like his compatriot and fellow judge Thomas Jeffrey, Cockburn was converted to Whig principles, contributing articles to Jeffrey's Edinburgh Review and writing his biography (Life of Lord Jeffrey, 1852). Although this was the only major work Cockburn published during his lifetime, his reputation as a man of letters rests principally on his journals, which were published posthumously as Memorials of His Time (1856), The Journal of Henry Cockburn (1874) and Circuit Journeys (1888). Together they present an enormously informative and valuable portrait of the period and many of its most significant personalities. Cockburn became Rector of Glasgow University in the early 1830s and a Lord of Session in 1834, and was actively involved in the conservation of Edinburgh's historic buildings. Cockburn's published works are complemented by his letters, largely unpublished but preserved by many of his correspondents and their families. This selection of 180 [new] letters provides much fresh information about his career as advocate, judge, Whig activist, genial family man and pioneer in building conservation. Together with the rest of his works, they confirm him as a key figure in that generation of thinkers and artists who followed on from those who made the eighteenth-century Scottish Enlightenment such a rich moment in Europe's cultural history. It is destined to become another classic in the tradition of the Memorials.