'A Respectable Attorney of this Town'

Snooping around Colne’s St Bartholomew’s Church yard, I was struck by an elegant tombstone attached to the church wall. It belonged to Richard Shaw, ‘respectable Attorney of this town’ (died 1799). Attorney means a lawyer, but what about ‘respectable’? Does it mean he was respected, ie acknowledged for his competence in legal affairs? Does it mean he made a good living from the law? I dare say his fees ensured he wore the finest clothes, and his table was spread with the best foods. Does it concede that not all lawyers are respectable, that some, like him, may be noted for their integrity?

We like to think that people in prominent places, and with positions are responsibility, live respectable, law-abiding lives. Sadly, far too many fail to do so. Policemen have been arrested for killing lone females, teachers for molesting pupils, clergymen for chasing mammon and, dare I say, lawyers for flouting the law. God alone knows if good Mister Shaw was as respectable a gentleman as his tombstone declares. It is not what we say about ourselves that matters, but what the great Judge determines.

For the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. 1 Sam. 16:7b