[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

and long-forgotten "Epigoniad," which said Johnson, “Lord Chatham might David Hume found“ full of sublimity and think it an advantageous thing for him to genius.” One of the professor's many make him a vintner, and get him all the singularities was his absence of mind. Portugal trade; but he would have deMeeting a former pupil in the streets, he meaned himself strangely had he accepted said: “I was sorry, my dear boy, to hear of such a situation : sir, had he gone secyou have had the fever in your family; retary, while his inferior was ambassador, was it you, or your brother, who died of he would have been a traitor to his rank it?" " It was me, sir," was the reply. and family!” This is one of the many “Ah, dear me, I thought so! very sorry instances in which Johnson was led astray for it — very sorry for it.” This matches by his reverence for rank and fondness Rogers's friend, Maltby, who, on Rogers for argument. telling him that he had just met a former The old earl died at Bath in 1767, and acquaintance who exclaimed in joyful sur. a minute account of the funeral is given prise, Ab, Rogers, is that you ?”– by Whitefield, his spiritual guide. It was quietly asked, " And was it?”

as members of the Methodist congregaThe family migrated to Bath towards | tion headed by Selina, Countess of Huntthe end of 1763, and on the roth of Octo-ingdon, and to be in constant communion ber in that year, Walpole writes to Chute: with that pious lady and her sect, that “There was (at the Rooms) a Scotch the Buchans had left Scotland for Bath. Countess of Buchan carrying a pure, rosy, Henry had no serious call, and it was vulgar face to beaven, and who asked probably for that reason that, whilst at Miss Rich if that was not the author of Glasgow University, he was allowed to the Poets.' I believe she meant me and spend his vacations at the house of the the Noble Authors.'' Henry was left Erskines of Cardross. Here he was well at Edinburgh, whence he went to the cared for by the mistress of the establish. University of Glasgow. Thomas was sentment, a character in her way, who was to sea as a midshipman, and his letters proud of her charge, and in after years, from abroad, written in his sixteenth year, when he became famous, delighted to are equally remarkable for the liveliness recall traits of his boyhood. After exand correctness of the style. Lord Chat. pressing her admiration of his bright ham had been the intimate friend and smile and happy temper, she would add: college companion (at Utrecht) of Lord "But, dear-sakes! he was a desperate Buchan (the father), and in October, 1766, laddie for losing his pocket-bankies.” Of he writes to Lord Shelburne to recom- his subsequent career at the University of mend Lord Cardross for the appointment Edinburgh we are only told that, amongst of secretary to the Spanish embassy under other subjects, be took up civil law, Sir James Gray. The appointment was rhetoric, and moral philosophy under Promade and duly gazetted, when an unex- fessors Wallace, Hugh Blair, and Adam pected difficulty arose. Lord Cardross Ferguson. Whilst studying for the law, refused to serve in a subordinate capacity he was a sedulous attendant at the Forum to a minister of low birth and inferior Debating Society, and he wrote some rank: Sir James's father, if we may be pieces of poetry, one of which, “ The Netlieve Walpole, having been first a box- tle and the Sensitive Plant,” arrived at keeper and then a footman to James II. the dignity of print. He was admitted a A discussion (reported by Boswell) arose member of the Faculty of Advocates in after dinner at Sir Alexander Macdonald's 1768. whether the young lord was justified in The rapid rise of the younger brother his refusal. Dr. Johnson said that “per- belongs to the romance of the English baps in point of interest he did wrong, Bar, and (as related by himself) was a but in point of dignity he did well.” Sir romance in more senses than one, for the Alexander insisted that he was wrong, story of the sixty retainers that were and said that Mr. Pitt intended it as an pressed upon him as he left the court advantageous thing for him. “Why, sir," after his speech for Captain Baillie, is

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

apocryphal on the face of it. It is also per-room, where one proposes a toast to irreconcilable with another story, that the the lady of his choice and empties his year following he hurried to his friend glass. Another names another lady and Reynolds with a banknote for 1,000l., bis does the same. The first repeats the fee for the defence of Admiral Keppel, ceremony with another glass. The secand flourished it in the air, exclaiming, ond responds to the challenge; and so Voilà the nonsuit of cow-beef!”. Noth- they go on, as in a German drinking duel, ing of this kind is recorded of Henry till one drops senseless on the floor. Erskine, who rose steadily to the highest Their example is followed by the rest of rank in the profession without the stimu- the party, who pair off for the purpose. lant of poverty or any extraordinary occur. This custom was called “saving the la. rence of good luck." I believe," writes dies,” why, does not appear; although his son," when my father began his law some of them were said to take pride in career in Edinburgh, reluctantly — for he the prowess of their champions, as if wished to go into the English Church warmth of heart was proved by hardness he was in great danger of leading a very of head. One of the earliest of Henry idle life. He had inherited, as his share Erskine's essays in rhyme is a copy of of his father's property, 2001. a year; his verses, printed in the Édinburgh Wéckly musical gifts were unusual -- be was, in- Magazine of May, 1771, on the St. Cecilia deed, 'no crowder on an untuned fiddle;'Catch Club, by whom the practice was his manners in the highest degree pol- carried to excess. The manuscript copy ished and captivating; his good-nature in the Advocates' Library is headed in his and high spirits made him the most de handwriting: “Wrote on purpose to be lightful of companions; and he was one spoken at the end of the play bespoke by of the handsomest men in Scotland.” Ed- that Club in the character of a lady who inburgh, he continues, was at that time had just received her ticket from the genfull of attraction to a young man: most tleman who sav'd her. In this elegant of the Scotch nobility spent the winter Society every lady is saved to whose there, and Sydney Smith could not have health'a certain quantity of hot punch is said of the people then, as he said after- drunk. Such as have no such feat perwards, that they were “a pack of cards formed for their sake are damn'd. Wrote without honors.” If Sydney Smith could at Edinr. 1770." After alluding to the not resist a joke at the aspect of his old-fashioned practice of wooing, he conScotch friends, he was always ready to tinues : do justice to their sterling qualities. “When,” he exclaims," shall I see Scot

But this wise age, by luxury refin'd, land again ? Never shall I forget the Has left these little wily arts behind; happy days passed there, amidsť odious Flushed with the juice of Gallia's rosy bunch,

They court the fair in “constables” of Punch. smells, bárbarous sounds, bad suppers, The dauntless youth, secure in stomach wide, excellent hearts, and most enlightened With eager transport swills the smoking tide ; and cultivated understandings.”

For on this noble, great, heroic draught, If the humorous divine had known Ed. His fair one's faine must sink, or rise aloft. inburgh society when Henry Erskine first played a leading part in it, he would have The Assembly Rooms, the Almack's of found worse drawbacks to its agreeability Scotland, are thus described :than odious smells, barbarous sounds, or bad suppers. It was lamentably wanting Close) is neither elegant nor commodious.

The dancing-room [in the old Assembly in refinement: the best (or worst) of its The door is so disposed, that a stream of air conviviality was to be found in taverns; rushes through it into the room, and as the and the highest compliment to a fair lady, footmen are allowed to stand with their flam. the most devoted act of gallantry, was to beaux in the entry, before the entertainment is get drunk in toasting her.

half over, the room is filled with smoak, almost The scene is the Canongate, by which to suffocation. There are two tea or card Susannah, Countess of Eglintoún, and rooms, but no When balls are ber seven lovely daughters, are returning given in the assembly room, and after them from a ball in the Assembly Rooms in supper, nothing can be more awkward or in. sedan chairs by the light of flaming torch. commodious to the company than the want of es, each attended by a cavalier with his At present, upon these occasions, the table is

distinct apartments for supper and dancing. bat in one hand and his drawn sword in covered in the dancing-room before the comthe other. The procession over, and the

Additional tables are set out, farewell bows and courtesies formally ex. where room is made for them by the dancing changed, the gentlemen retire to the sup- l being over. Chairs are to be brought in, and

pany meets.

[ocr errors]

waiters are pouring in with dishes, while the intuitive sagacity in seeing into people's company are standing all the while in the floor. characters hardly ever failed.” She proved

To engage a lady to dance was called an excellent although what is called a “lifting" her, which was a serious matter the entire management of the domestic

notable wife. Not content with having at a time when the engagement was for the whole evening, there being no change trouble him with questions concerning

arrangements, she would occasionally of partners; and it is told in proof of Henry Erskine's kindness of heart that least of it, inopportune; as when she

them when the enquiry was, to say the he was wont to come to the rescue of any roused him from a fit of meditation or neglected maiden, with the tickets with

much-needed out which a couple could not take their

nap with,

Harry, lovey,

where's places in a set, and the oranges equally

white waistcoat?"

your prescribed by custom for the refreshment (if it could be called house) in one of the

The newly married couple set up house of his partner after the dance.

lofty tenements in the neighborhood of Mr. Erskine, who shone among the dancers the High Court; and here, “in the very -a circumstance that was afterwards “cast centre of the fashionable world,” they up to him” — used to relate several little anec- dispensed hospitality to a large circle of dotes regarding this etiquette of oranges. One friends and relatives. At this period alcountry youth, he remembered, who was more most the only special invitation was to at home with the compounding of certain fes take a dish of tea at four o'clock — the tive beverages at midnight than with the routine of the ball-room, yet wishing to do by his dinner hour being three. Etiquette repartner everything that was right, thus ad- quired that the tea should be tasted with dressed the young lady at the close of a dance: the teaspoon, and that the hostess should "Miss, wud ye tak’a leemon ?" It frequently ask if it was “agreeable.” The teaspoons happened that a young lady suddenly called were numbered to ensure each guest getupon to dance would hand over to another, ting his or her own at the second cup: whose fate it was to sit out,” the refreshment This species of reception, remarks Colonel upon which she had been engaged, with a cau. Fergusson, is said to have been as popution against an undue consumption of the fruit. iar with gentlemen as with the ladies.

In the fourth year (1772) after he was This is hardly reconcilable with the conadmitted an advocate, he was married to vivial habits of the period, when the fesChristian Fullerton, of an old and bonor. tive meal was the supper, and the chosen able family, heiress presumptive through scene of rollicking enjoyment the tavern. her mother to the property of Newhall, The picture (in "Guy Mannering”) of in Fife. His suit was pressed in verse Counsellor Pleydell at High Jinks was

The and prose, and, judging from the quantity notoriously drawn from the life. of rhyme expended in it, must have been ministers and elders of the Church were unusually long and sufficiently beset with as prone to strong potations as the lawobstacles to illustrate the Shakspearian yers and the lairds. The most important adage that the course of true love never ecclesiastical affairs were discussed at did run smooth. Forty pages of the MS. supper, and Dr. Alexander Carlyle disvolume containing his poetical pieces, are tinctly lays down that, till long after the filled with love elegies, written in 1770,

middle of the century, no clergyman addressed to Amanda: in the firsť of could hope for success unless his head which he complains that the narrowness

was hard enough to bear him scatheless, of bis fortune obliges him to conceal his through the "convivialities” of society.* passion. Then come “ To Amanda in It was highly to Henry Erskine's credSickness,” ," "On leaving Amanda in the it

, therefore, that he never indulged in Spring,” and so on. They are somewhat any description of excess, and if occawanting in ease, grace, and fancy'; defi-sionally he passed an evening with the ciencies for which Colonel Fergusson

famous topers and humorists of the pe. accounts by their earnestness and truth: riod, or became a member of their clubs, and there is certainly high authority for he was acting on the same principle as declaring that poets succeed better in fic- Pepys, who, by way of apology for keeption than in truth.* According to their ing company with Killigrew and the like, son, “she was exceedingly clever; ber sets down in his diary: “ Loose company,

but worth a man's being in for once – * "The Congratulation,” addressed by Waller to know the nature of it, and the manner of Charles II. on the Restoration, was inferior in poetical merit to his “ Panegyric" on Cromwell.



*"Autobiography.” He was called “Jupiter" Carking told the poet of the inferiority, he replied: “Poets, lyle from his reseinblance to the Jupiter Tonans in the

When the

sire, succeed better in fiction than in truth."


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


their talk and lives.” Thus Erskine lived that the General Assembly of the Church on intimate terms, without catching the became a theatre for young latvyers, infection, with his kinsman the Earl of elected as elders, to display their eloKellie, who was as famous for loose living quence, and he mentions several who af. as for his musical talents and his songs. terwards rose to eminence as having first The earl was giving an amusing account attracted attention on this singularly of a sermon which he heard in a church chosen arena. Far from being exclusively in Italy, where the priest was ex iating clerical, the subjects were freq ently of a on the miracle of St. Anthony's preach- nature to afford an almost unlimited scope ing with such unction during a sea voyage to oratory; as, for example, when Home's that the fishes held their heads out of the " Douglas" raised the question whether water to listen to him. “I can well be. it was befitting a minister to compose and lieve the miracle,” remarked Erskine, publish a stage play, or even to be pres“when your Lordship was at church, there ent at the representation of one. The was at least one fish out of water." In a Assembly, after much animated debate, picture of the alleged miracle, the listen- passed a resolution forbidding the clergy ing lobsters were painted red, as if ready to countenance the theatre; but little or boiled for the occasion. When this was no attempt was made to enforce it, and objected to the painter, he replied that it in the year 1784, when Mrs. Siddons made simply made the miracle the greater. her first appearance in Edinburgh during

One of Lord Stowell's recollections of the sitting of the Assembly, no important Dr. Johnson's visit to Edinburgh in 1773 business could be fixed for the evenings was that the doctor was treated by the on which she acted, when (as we learn Scottish literati with a degree of defer from Dr. Carlyle) all the younger memence bordering on pusillanimity, with the bers, clergy and laity, took their stations exception of Mr. Crosbie (an eminent in the theatre by three in the afternoon. advocate), whom he characterizes as an Conspicuous amongst these was Henry intrepid talker and the only man who Erskine, who had been elected an elder was disposed to stand up to the lexicogra- | about the same time when he was admitpher.* Colonel Fergusson, whose nation. ted to the advocacy, and had taken all al pride seems to have been sorely wound. along an active share in their debates; ed by Johnson's habitual sarcasms on the finding them an excellent school for pubScotch, says that “the description of his lic speaking as well as an agreeable relax. treatment of the hospitable and long-suf- ation. Speaking of a leading elder to fering people of Edinburgh is enough to whom he was frequently opposed, he was make one's blood boil." Was it from wont to say that “running down Hillfear or indignation that Erskine held was easy and pleasant work. He be. aloof from the illustrious visitor, to whom longed to the section called the “Highhe was presented by Boswell at an acci. flyers,” the prevalent accusation against dental meeting in the Parliament Close? whom was fanaticism. A popular caricaAfter an interchange of bows, Erskine ture, entitled “The Modern Hercules merely said, “Your servant, sir," and Destroying the Hydra Fanaticism,” reppassed on; pausing a moment to slip a resents Dr. Carlyle brandishing a club shilling into Boswell's hand for (in an over the monster, whose heads include aside) the sight of his bear. Boswell ex- portraits of Dr. Dalzell of the Edinburgh presses the warmest gratitude to his wife University, Dr. John Erskine of the Grey. for her reception of his redoubtable friars Church, Henry Erskine with finger friend, and says that his conversation upraised in a warning attitude, and one or soon charmed her into a forgetfulness of two other leaders of that school. They his external appearance. Colonel Fer- retorted on the adverse section of the gusson states that she was one of the “ Moderates” by the charge of scepti. most exasperated of the good citizens of cism or indifference, and by alleging that Edinburgh, and said that she had often their toleration was only for their own heard of a man leading about a bear, but side. “When the powers of darkness never before of the man being led by the roasted this Moderation, they let the spit nose by the animal. Be this as it may, stand still: one side was burnt to a coal, he was publicly kissed by the beautiful and the other was blood raw.” The Countess of Eglintoun.

strength of the rival parties was brought Speaking of 1752, Dr. Alexander Car- to a test when Erskine became a candilyle states that it was about this period date for the vacant post of procurator to

the Church, and was beaten by a narrow • Croker's Boswell. Royal oct. edition, p. 270. majority; the successful candidate being

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

William Robertson (the eldest son of the the bad taste, and the weakness of desir. historian), who took the title of Lord to prolong it for his own sake, it ceased ertson on his promotion to the bench. the very instant that the reasoning was

That Erskine's eventual success at the served.' bar was in some measure owing to the Nevertheless," adds this fine observer distinction he acquired in the Assembly and practised speaker, “notwithstanding may be inferred from the fact that the the fascination it threw around bim, he earliest of his causes of which there is had better have been without the power. any record was a clerical one, the case of It established obstructing associations of the Rev. James Lawson, who had been cheerfulness whenever he appeared, in kept out of the ministry for six years the public mind.” By“ obstructive assoby the Presbytery of Auchterarder on ciations of cheerfulness” must be meant grounds which, according to a dissenting the tendency to laugh, the expectation of minority of the elders, would have equally being amused, which is inevitably if unin. justified the rejection of John the Baptist. tentionally, provoked by a known wit, a The case came before the General Assem. practised joker, even when he wishes to bly in 1778 by petition, complaining of the be serious; and when the envied pos. rejection of a discourse he had delivered sessor of the power had " better be with. as part of his trials. Erskine appeared out it,” is when he is addressing grave as counsel for the petitioner, "and after cop who cannot disassociate vivacity everything that human tongue could say and fancy from shallowness, and mistake had been urged in his favor and against dulness for depth. him, the Assembly agreed to read the discourse to which exception had been

The Temple late two brother sergeants saw taken, but this proposal was promptly

Who deemed each other oracles of law;

Each had a gravity would make you split, checked by Erskine withdrawing the ap.

And shook his head at Murray as a wit. peal.” No reason is given or suggested for this proceeding, and the inevitable According to Colonel Fergusson, the conclusion is that he dreaded the effect Scotch bar, when Erskine began to take the formal perusal of the discourse might a lead in it, savored not a little of the unchave upon the interests of his client, who tion of Donald Cargill or George Whitepersevered notwithstanding in a succes. field. “Further, the language of the sion of abortive efforts to become a li- courts at this time was little better than censed preacher till his name had grown an imperfect dialect of English, with into a byword.

neither the strength and precision of the Although this is the first of Erskine's southern tongue, nor the quaint, graphic recorded cases, he must already have ac. power of the Scotch when spoken in its quired distinction at the bar. His quali- purity. It was the custom, also, at this ties were precisely of the character that time, for counsel to address the judges struck at once. He only required to be according to certain obsolete fornis, and seen, heard, and known, to be appreci- in a whining tone, the exact cadence of ated. Lord Cockburn speaks of “his which was prescribed; and to have abated tall and rather slender figure, a face from which would have been an unpardon. sparkling with vivacity, a clear, sweet able liberty in the eyes of the lords of voice, and a general appearance of ele- Council and Session.” We find it difficult gance, which gave him a striking and to reconcile this with what we know of the pleasing appearance.” Lord Jeffrey says contemporaneous eloquence of the Genthat "he was distinguished not only eral Assembly, where many of the perby the peculiar brilliancy of his wit, formers were the same, and indications and the gracefulness, ease, and vivacity are not wanting that prior to the period in of his eloquence, but by the still rarer question the Scotch judges were occapower of keeping those seducing qualities sionally startled out of their sobriety by in perfect subordination to his judgment. rhetorical displays of an aspiring or even By their assistance he could not only melodramatic order. It would be difficult make the most repulsive subjects agree to imagine a more exciting scene in a able, but the most abstruse, easy and in court of justice than that which in or telligible. All his wit was argument, and about 1750) led to Wedderburn's (Lord each of his delightful illustrations a mate. Loughborough's) abandonment of the rial step in his reasoning.". Here again Scotch for the English bar. Lord Cockburn agrees: His playfulness


Shortly after commencing practice at was always an argumentative instrument. the Scotch bar, he happened to be opHe reasoned in wit; and, untempted by | posed to Mr. Lockhart, at that time a

« VorigeDoorgaan »