[Updated 7th May 2008–more news as it breaks…]

Posts on this blog are like buses…

Some of the most contented moments I have spent whilst not in company have been spent in the National Library of Scotland.  Tragic, I know, but there it is.  In the course of my work-related historical research there a while back, I came across an interesting sentence in a letter I was transcribing that has had me running a merry goose-chase ever since. 

In a letter dated 17th January 1756 from Robert Dundas of Arniston (1713-1787, Lord Advocate and MP for “Edinburghshire”) to Sir David Dalrymple (3rd Bt. of Hailes, and later Lord Hailes) I came across the following sentence:

I hope the Court of Session will do the Faculty of Advocates justice in expelling from amongst us Mr. Lookup who is a reproach to our body.

That’s it: no follow-up, no references in later letters, and we do not have Sir David’s reply.  Interesting enough for me to do a bit of rooting around to find out a bit more, I thought.  I was right.

I eventually found three rather intriguing pieces of intelligence in connection with the reproachable Mr Lookup.  The first was his entry in The Faculty of Advocates in Scotland 1532-1943 (S.R.O., 1944):

Son of Mr. John Lookup, minister of Mid Calder, born 1710, died 7 Aug. 1757, mar. Mary MyInton (died 7 Aug. 1757). Suspended 23 June 1756, admitted barrister Mid. Temple 16 May 1740.

So Dundas’s wish came true: Lookup was suspended from the Faculty just five months later.  But under what normal circumstances does a man die on the same day as his wife?  Rather soon for either to have pined away for want of the other.  Had his crime been so reprehensible as to have merited the death sentence, and had his wife been criminally complicit too? I wondered rather dramatically.  But surely his entry would have said if that had been the case?  So I went next to look up the record of his suspension.

In The acts of sederunt of the Lords of Council and Session, from the 15th of January 1553, to the 11th of July 1790 (Edinburgh, 1790), I found this account for 23rd June 1756:

Sentence suspending Mr John Lookup, Advocate, for Contempt of Authority.  In the complaint given in and presented to the Lords for Agnes Forbes, relict of the deceased John MacDonald, late merchant and distiller in Laigh Valleyfield, against Mr John Lookup, advocate, and William Chalmers, writer in Edinburgh, his clerk, charging them with unwarrantably detaining and with-holding from her sundry papers, which the said Mr Lookup had got, in order to obtain a suspension of a process at the instance of John Lawson, one of her husband’s creditors, against her; and endeavouring to extort from the complainer, a certain sum of money, as the contents of a pretended account, alleged to be resting by her to them: to which complaint they having given in answers, and a proof being led in the said matter, and several intimations made to the said Mr John Lookup to attend the advising thereof:
The Lords having this day taken under their consideration the complaint at the instance of the said Agnes Forbes, against the said Mr John Lookup, and that the said Mr John Lookup has been guilty of contempt of their authority, by his not compearing in Court, in obedience of the several orders of the Lords intimated to him: They therefore suspend him from his office of an advocate, and whole privileges thereof, ay and until he purges himself of the said complaint. And ordain this sentence to be insert in the sederunt books.

So Mr Lookup was a dodgy geezer, or was alleged to be so—and he failed to turn up to defend himself from these accusations.  Suspension courted, suspension granted.  But this tells us nothing about his later life—nor why there was so little of it left to run, nor yet why he seems to have met his Maker on the same day as his wife.

As it happened, the next referrence to Lookup I could find related to Mrs Lookup.  From Theophilous Cibber’s The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Vol. II:

[John] Milton had a brother, Mr. Christopher Milton who was knighted and made one of the barons of the Exchequer in King James II’s reign, but he does not appear to have been a man of any abilities, at least if he had any, they are lost to posterity in the lustre of his brother’s. There is now alive a grand-daughter of this Christopher Milton, who is married to one Mr. John Lookup, advocate at Edinburgh, remarkable for his knowledge of the Hebrew tongue. The lady, whom I have often seen, is extremely corpulent, has in her youth been very handsome, and is not destitute of a poetical genius. She has writ several copies of verses, published in the Edinburgh Magazines; and her face bears some resemblance to the picture of Milton.

Fascinating!  Having made certain that there was only one John Lookup in the Faculty of Advocates at the time, I was pleased to have found out such a curious piece of information about his personal life.  Was “MyInton” a misspelling of “Milton” (or perhaps “Mylton”) then?  And was Lookup the accomplished Hebrew scholar Cibber claims?  Certainly, there was a “John Lookup, Esq.” who was the author (in 1739 and 1740 respectively) of a work on the biblical evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity (deemed heretical by its dedicatee, the Archbishop of Canterbury) and a translation from the Hebrew of the book of Genesis (which had been remarked upon for its mastery of that tongue).   But too little information on this author exists, either to make the identification with our Lookup certain or to eliminate him from our enquiries.  Notwithstanding his being a son of the Manse (the theological connection) and his admission to the English bar in the year of the work in question (the Anglican link), “our John” may be thought an unlikely candidate for authorship of such a book.  But John Lookup is a sufficiently uncommon name for the attribution to be plausible, and one never knows.

But what of the sychronous carking-it of Mr and Mrs Lookup?  I have, so far, found nothing either in the parish registers or the records of the law courts relating to them.  But good old Google dredged up one more tantalising lead.

In the legal records of the County of York, Virginia from 1775 we find the “Inventory and appraisement of the estate of John Lookup deceased taken on the 17th day of August 1774”.  Listed amongst the meagre leavings of this man (several items of livestock, an unharvested crop of corn, argricultural equipment, “six old wigs” and a very few other personal effects) are more than a dozen books on English law

My brain ran amok.  Could this be our man?  Were the reports of his 1757 death “greatly exaggerated”?  Did he fake his own death?  Did he fake his wife’s?  Was he instead transported along with his wife to the American colonies when the long arm of the law eventually collared him?  (Just such a fate–transportation to the American colonies–was narrowly escaped by a George Lookup, a suspected swindler and convicted perjurer, on a technicality in England in 1762…)  Could this John Lookup instead be our advocate’s son, who perhaps fled to Virginia to escape the shame brought upon his name by his father’s misdeeds but who took some of pa’s law books with him?  Are there too many shrill, fanciful questions in this paragraph? We (or at any rate, I) may never know.  This is as far as I’ve got so far.

But I do know that there are the makings of a rip-roaring historical novel in all of this: crime, literature, beauty, mystery, death, celebrity, wigs–it’s got the lot. 

UPDATE: Gawd bless Google!  I just found the report below, which can only very recently have been uploaded, and isn’t available thorough the otherwise excellent Eighteenth-Century Collections Online— er, because it wasn’t printed till 1826. 

From Decisions of the Lords of Council and Session from 1766 to 1791 (Vol. II, Edinburgh 1826), commonly known as “Hailes’s Decisions” because it was compiled by… Lord Hailes himself!  Now, why didn’t I think of looking there in the first place, eh?  Never mind, here’re the goodies:

 1775.  February 2.  ANDREW and ROBERT LOOKUPS, Petitioners. THE petitioners, having heard of the death of one John Lookup in Virginia, desired to have evidence of their propinquity to him. The first point to be established was, who is the John Lookup ? The petitioners imagined that he was Mr John Lookup, advocate, and that his identity might be proved by comparing his handwriting with the handwriting of the Virginia John Lookup. With that view, they applied to the Court for a warrant to deliver up on receipt, and under an obligation to restore, certain writings of Mr John Lookup, advocate, which lay in a process before the Court of Session. On the 2d February 1775, ” The Lords granted the desire of the petition, on finding caution for L.5, and ordered notarial copies to be taken before the clerk delivers up the writings.”

Had I a gast it would be well and truly flabbered.  (Instead, I have flab which is well and truly ghastly).  My guess that the Virginia Lookup might be our man was clearly shared by some of his (presumed) relatives (I am guessing the petitioners were advocate Lookup’s sons).  Thus, my hunch is in part borne out–and only 233 years too late.  I will endeavour to find out more (Oi! You! Stop snoring at the back!), but in the meantime…

Levate oculos!