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leading counsel. In replying to an impassioned appeal of this powerful opponent, he summed up an ironical picture of Mr. Lockhart's eloquence in these sarcastic terms: "Nay, my lords, if tears could have moved your lordships, tears, sure I am, would not have been wanting." The lord president immediately interrupted the young counsel, and told him he was pursuing a very indecorous course of observation. Wedderburn maintained with spirit that he had said nothing he was not well entitled to say, and would have no hesitation in saying again. The lord president, irritated at so bold an answer from a junior, rejoined in a manner, the personality of which provoked the advocate to tell his lordship that he had said as a judge what he dared not justify as a gentleman. The president invoked the protection of his brother judges, and Wedderburn was ordered by the unanimous voice of the court to make a most abject apology, on pain of deprivation. He refused, and threw off his gown.*
pun, he began: "Maclean and Donald, the defendants; Tickle, the plaintiff, my lord!" "Tickle her yourself, Harry, you can do it as well as I," was the retort of the presiding judge. Like his brother, he was extremely popular with the juniors of the bar, and never failed to throw his broad shield over them when, with or without reason, they had fallen under the displeasure of the bench. A young counsel, who was with him in an important cause, had ventured to say that he was surprised to hear what had just fallen from their lordships. This called forth a sharp reproof, to the confusion of the junior and the probable prejudice of the client, when Erskine gallantly came to the rescue by expressing the fullest concurrence in the contrition felt by his young friend at an imprudence which was entirely owing to inexperience," for when he has practised as long, or half as long, at this bar as I have, I can safely assure your lordships that he will be surprised at nothing your lordships may say." It was not long, we are told, before even With some of their lordships it must have the law lords, who were most antiquated been no easy matter to be grave. In a in their ideas, began to acknowledge the case where Erskine, David Cathcart superiority of the new style, introduced (afterwards Lord Alloway), and John by Erskine, to the dry and somniferous Clerk (afterwards Lord Eldin), were enprosing of the old. Having to address "the fifteen "in a case which presented no difficulty, he began: "My lords, the facts of the case are so exceedingly simple, and the evidence that I shall adduce so perfectly conclusive, that I am happy to say I shall not need to take up much of your lordships' time. I shall be very brief." This exordium did not at all fall in with the expectations or wishes of their lordships, who either had more time on their hands than they knew what to do with, or had settled themselves down for an intellectual treat, and the general sentiment was expressed by one of them who called out: "Hoots, Maister Harry, dinna be brief, dinna be brief."
"His wit," says Lord Brougham, "was renowned and, as it made him the life of society, placed him as the first favorite of the courts; but it was also used in excess, partly owing to the audience whom he addressed, the fifteen judges, who required to be relieved in their dull work, and as soon as he began, expected to be made gay." They gladly caught up and threw back the ball which he flung to them. Opening the case of a venerable spinster with a name provocative of a
The Lives of Twelve Eminent Judges. By W. C. Townsend, Esq., M.A. London. 1846. In two volVol. i., p. 167.
gaged, the judge, Lord Polkemmet, thus addressed the advocates:
Weel, Maister Askine, I hae heard you, an' Dauvid, an' I thocht ye were richt; and noo I I thocht ye were richt; syne I heard you, hae heard Maister Clerk, an' I think he's the richtest amang ye. That bauthers me, ye see! Sae I maun e'en tak hame the process and whamble't i' my wame a wee, ower my toddyand syne ye'se hae an Interlocitor.
A similar story is told of an English baron of the Exchequer who complained of the difficulty of deciding after hearing both sides, and begged the counsel to come to an understanding amongst themselves. Lord Braxfield freely indulged on the bench the coarse humor for which he
was famous in private life. A sample of the kind of colloquy that took place amongst their lordships is given in "Redgauntlet:
"What's the matter with the auld bitch next?" said an acute metaphysical judge (Lord Kames) aside to his brethren. "This is a daft cause, Bladderskate. What say ye till't, ye
Nothing, my Lord," answered Bladderskate. "I say nothing, but pray to Heaven to keep our own wits." "Amen, amen," answered his learned brother, "for some of us have but few to spare."
Having to be examined as a witness in
a consistorial court before Mr. Commissary Balfour, a pompous, absurd person, Erskine so framed his answers as to turn the whole proceedings into ridicule:—
"I suppose, my lord," was the reply, they are like ourselves, confined to port." The dearth of claret at a judicial table seems to have been a standing grievance, remembered claret, fresh from the cask, although "Jupiter" Carlyle states that he being hawked round Edinburgh at eightWith even super-pence a quart. Erskine was dining with Lord Armadale when, being confined to port, he addressed the host in parody of an old song:
It was only when everybody in Court was shaking with laughter that a suspicion of the truth dawned upon the judge; when he, in
vain, tried to restore order.
added dignity of utterance he, at last, was driven to pronounce the words: "At this shameful point in the proceedings of this Court, it grieves me to have to say that the intimacy of the friend must yield to the severity of the judge. Macer, forthwith conduct Mr. Erskine to the Tolbooth!" To the increased amusement of the audience, the only notice of this awful mandate that the macer deigned to take was to reply, with ill-concealed disgust, "Hoots! Mr. Ba'four!"
The Scotch bench and bar were then principally filled and recruited from the landed aristocracy, and did their best to be as exclusive in their way as the old French nobility. Thus an influential section of them opposed a steady resistance to the claim of a gentleman named Wright to be admitted of the faculty on the ground of low birth, and it was only through the strenuous exertions of Ers kine that the opposition was overcome. His protégé got little or no practice, and died in embarrassed circumstances. His death was announced to Erskine by Sheriff Anstruther, who added: "They say he has left no effects." "That is not surprising," was the rejoinder, "as he had no causes, he could have no effects." This is not the only instance in which what was a good joke at the time, and has since become a hackneyed one with many reputed fathers, has been traced to Henry Erskine. The punning inscription Tu Doces on a tea-chest has been claimed for him. At a circuit dinner to the bar, Lord Kames had directed that port wine only should be placed upon the table, and turned a deaf ear to the many audible hints for claret. At length when hard pressed, in the hope of producing a diversion, he turned to Erskine and asked: "What can have become of the Dutch, who only the other day were drubbed off the Doggerbank by Admiral Parker?"
Drink the port, the claret's dear,
Ye'll get fou on't, never fear,
Henry Erskine warmly co-operated with his brother, Lord Buchan, in the foundation of the Scotch Society of Antiquaries, and his name heads the list of ordinary members, dating from the first formal meeting on Nov. 14, 1782. His subsequent attendance was irregular, and he was accused of not having made a donation to the society, upon which he wrote to the secretary, regretting that he had been unable to attend their meetings for some time past, at the same time stating that he enclosed "a donation which, if you keep it long enough, will be the greatest curiosity you have." This was guinea of George III.
Amongst the most remarkable members of this society was Hugo Arnot of Balcormo, advocate, author of the "History of Edinburgh." It was to him, on his assuming the title of fellow, that Lord Buchan happily applied Pope's couplet: Worth makes the man, and want of it the fel
The rest is all but leather or prunello.
Arnot was a lantern-faced, lean and attenuated figure of a man, of avowedly sceptical opinions. The white horse he ordinarily bestrode was as lanky and sepulchral-looking as the rider. Returning from a Sunday-afternoon ride, he met Erskine coming from divine service, and called out to him, "Where have you been, Harry? What has a man of your sense to do consorting with a parcel of old women? I protest you could expect to hear nothing new;" adding, with an extra sneer, "What, now, was your text?" "Our text," replied Harry, with a voice of
impressive solemity, his eye sternly fixed, the while, on the white horse and his rider, was from the 6th chapter of the Book of Revelation and the 8th verse: 'And I looked, and behold a Pale Horse: and his name that sat on him was DEATH, and Hell followed with him.'"
On another occasion, when Arnot, taken to task for his irregularities, was contending that a liberal allowance would be made by a gracious Deity for the errors and temptations of the flesh, Erskine replied by an impromptu verse:
The Scriptures assure us that much is forgiven
That extend such forgiveness to Skin and to
I expect soon to see the time when two Erskines, in two different climates practising, are to be at the head of the profession in the different countries, where, unlike Castor and Pollux of old, the one will not be in the shades once lords of the ascendant in their respective below when the other is in heaven, but both at be attained with as little. delay as possible, I hemispheres. In order that that object may wish you with all convenient speed to be among us in the House of Commons; and if any means occur by which I can tend to forward that object, you have only to desire me to be upon the watch.
till many years afterwards, and he reHe did not succeed in obtaining a seat mained in Edinburgh as manager for the Whig party during the whole of the strug gle which ended in the complete triumph of Pitt. In addition to the office of lord advocate, he was appointed advocate and With this may be coupled his better-state counsellor to the Prince of Wales known epigram on Moore's translation of on his Royal Highness's establishment as Anacreon:
Oh, mourn not for Anacreon dead
His own translation, or imitation, of the
great steward of Scotland. His confidential communications with the Coalition were carried on through Sir Thomas Dundas, whose letters abound with proofs of the delusion under which the contest until the general election placed the state was begun, and continued on their part, of public opinion beyond a doubt. On December 18, 1783, Sir Thomas writes:
Parliament will be dissolved on Saturday: it therefore becomes necessary that every wellwisher to the wellbeing and salvation of this
Constitution should exert himself to the utmost
in forming the new Parliament properly.
Report says Pitt is First Lord of the TreasTemple Secretary of State, etc., etc., etc. ury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord
I think these new Ministers are so little known in our country, that those who are known, although not Ministers, may still have some weight.
Fox was with the King after Lord Temple and his friends came out, and H. M. said nothing to him out of the common road of business, is little doubt of a dissolution. which is rather extraordinary. However, there
From the nicest calculations of those who
know all the connections of this country, it is said with confidence that the new Administra"tion will at the utmost gain twenty-four votes from amongst our friends, whatever they may lose in the jumble from their own, which will secure to us a large majority in the new Par
On the formation of the Coalition ministry, Erskine was appointed lord advocate in the place of Henry Dundas, afterwards Lord Melville, his lifelong rival and competitor for place. The appointment was announced to him in a letter dated August 15, 1783, by the Duke. of Portland, the prime minister, and in a congratulatory letter of the 19th, Adam writes:
When the dissolution took place, no less than one hundred and fifty-eight supporters of the Coalition lost their seats.
On the 22nd of December, 1783, he writes to say that Lord Temple had resigned, and encloses the copy of an address to the king, moved by Thomas
(Lord) Erskine and seconded by Colonel escapade of the same sort, and, according Fitzpatrick:to Sir Thomas Dundas, he (Sheridan) has had a compleat trimming both from the D. of P. and Fox, and promises to be more cautious in future; that hobby-horse of his called Wit frequently runs away with him." He forgot that he was writ ing to the most incorrigible wit in Scotland.
It needs no comment. In short, the disappointment, distraction, confusion, and (I had almost said) shame of these our opponents, are not to be described. The address is to be carried to the King by the whole House, and will probably be received on Wednesday.
There is an end of all illusions respecting a dissolution.
On the 9th of February, Sir Thomas His Majesty's present Administration con-writes: "The present glorious ministers sists of Mr. William Pitt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Earl Gower, President of the Council- -no other person having as yet accepted, or now being likely to accept, of any
In short the game is up with them. Fox says he hopes that you and Wight have not wrote to resign your offices, and desires you may not think of doing so.
For God's sake publish the address in every paper, and also the account of the proceedings of the present glorious and unparalleled Ministry, that it may be proclaimed to the remotest corner of the country. I wish you may be able to make sense of this confused letter, for I am so hurried, and twenty people talking to me, that I hardly know what I am writing. Again, a week further on, in confident anticipation of an assured victory:
LONDON, 1st January, 1784.
MY DEAR HARRY, I am delighted to find
Immediately before the decisive division in the Lords, when the India Bill was rejected in compliance with the king's wishes conveyed through Lord Temple, Adam is reported to have said: "I wish I was as sure of the kingdom of heaven as I am of carrying our bill this evening."
Next to the intemperance of Burke, nothing did the Coalition more harm with the country than a rash expression of their attorney general "Jack Lee," when, making light of the chartered rights of the East India Company, he asked, "What is a charter but a piece of parchment with a lump of wax dangling to it?" Sheridan was guilty of more than one
begin to droop most piteously; their famous address from the House of Peers is turned into such ridicule that they cannot bear it." A month later, March 9, there is a perceptible change of tone: "You will probably be much surprised when you hear that we carried the question of a representation to the king last night only by one vote."
Not the least remarkable part of this correspondence is that relating to the "Irish Resolutions," the object of which was to mitigate the glaring injustice by which Irish commerce and manufactures had been restricted or suppressed. Lord North declared that "they outdid everything that the wildest imagination could suggest;" and Pitt's willingness to make equitable concessions, which, with Ireland in arms and Grattan proclaiming her independence, could be withheld no longer, was represented by the Foxites through the whole length and breadth of England and Scotland as a base surrender of British interests and rights. On the 18th of February, 1785, Sir Thomas Dundas writes: "This is a moment of the most anxious expectation that perhaps ever occurred in this country;" and Erskine is exhorted to strain every nerve to Scottish towns, by assuring them that procure petitions from all the principal Irish competition would be their ruin if it was set free. How zealously and effectively he carried out the wishes of his party and his political chiefs, may be collected from the letters of acknowledgment addressed to him, e. g. :·
LONDON, Saturday, 7 May, 1785,
world and leader of society than of the learned jurist or forensic orator. Thus we are told of Erskine's patronizing Lunardi, the Italian aeronaut, who became the rage in Edinburgh and is immortalized by Burns; and we learn how the second visit of Mrs. Siddons to the northern Athens, in 1785, gave rise to a theatrical altercation in which the dean of faculty was mixed up. He must have been stage-struck or Siddons-struck, for, not content with heading a cabal against an actor whom the playgoing public had proscribed, he set on foot and exerted all his
the long lease of power that was in store | of a lawyer, that professional subjects are for them. On Erskine's playfully re- thrown into the background, and we hear marking, during a casual meeting in the more of the accomplished man of the Parliament House just after his appointment, that he was about to order his silk gown, the official costume of the lord advocate, Dundas drily observed: "It is hardly worth while for the time you will want it: you had better borrow mine." The biographer's version of the reply differs disadvantageously from the current one: "From the readiness with which you make the offer, Mr. Dundas, I have no doubt that the gown is a gown made to fit any party; but however short my time in my office may be, it shall never be said of Henry Erskine that he adopted the abandoned habits of his pred-influence to promote a subscription of ecessor." A gown cannot be made to fit a party" except in the sense of "person," a vulgar use of the term of recent date; and the repartee is best in the more concise form: "Thank you, but it never shall be said," etc.
the faculty to present "the admirable Mrs. Siddons" with a massive silver teatray, "in token of their appreciation of her many virtues as much as in gratitude for the pleasure she had afforded them." Nor does his connection with the stage When the Coalition ministry came to end here. In 1791 Stephen Kemble and an end, Erskine was succeeded by Mr. Jackson entered into an agreement to rent Ilay Campbell, a shorter man than him- the Edinburgh and Glasgow Theatre. self, and on offering to hand on the gown, They fell out, and referred the matter in he said, "You must take nothing off it, dispute to Erskine, who after due deliberfor I'll (sic) soon need it again." "It will ation issued what is called a decreet-arbibe bare enough, Harry," retorted Camp-tral, which pleased neither party, and esbell,"before you get it again." He did pecially displeased Jackson, who picks it not get it again till after the lapse of to pieces, paragraph by paragraph, in his twenty-one years.
Towards the end of 1785, Erskine was consoled for the loss of his official rank by being elected dean of the Faculty of Advocates. "The deanship," remarks Lord Cockburn, "is merely a station of honor, but when not lowered by the interference of political, or other improper, considerations, it is the highest honor of the kind that can be conferred in Scotland. Each election is only for a single year; but he who once succeeds is almost never dispossessed, so that it is the presi dency for life, or during the holder's pleasure, of the most important public body in the country." The contest was warm. Sir Thomas Dundas writes, Dec. 30, 1785:
MY DEAR DEAN OF FACULTY,
History of the Scottish Theatre." During one of the disturbances at the theatre caused by the cabal, a man in the pit persevered in retaining a standing position in defiance of a clamorous call to him to sit down. Erskine came to the front of his box and appealed to the indulgence of the audience: "Pray excuse the gentleman: don't you see it is only a tailor resting himself." The man sank into his seat, and would gladly have sunk under it.
The tragic muse was not the only one of the sisterhood which enjoyed the protection of the dean. Burns writes to his friend Gavin Hamilton: "December 7, 1786,- My Lord Glencairn and the Dean of Faculty, Mr. Henry Erskine, have taken me under their wing, and in all joice and am exceeding glad at your victory-probability I shall soon be the tenth and a great victory it appears to me to be, be-worthy, and the eighth wise man of the cause your opponents certainly stirr'd heaven and earth, with all the hellish powers of administration, to defeat you and the cause of freedom at the Scots Bar. You have now, thank God, got the command over our enemies, and I know you will make a good use of it.
It is one almost inevitable disadvantage of having a soldier for the biographer
world." Again, December 13: "I have been introduced to a good number of the noblesse, but my avowed patrons and patronesses are the Duchess of Gordon, the Countess of Glencairn, with my Lord and Lady Betty, the Dean of Faculty, and Sir John Whitefoord." It was Erskine whom Burns had to thank for his introduction to