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know that he is not," was the spirited reply of the advocate ; " but for that very reason I will bring him before the court."
He was employed, in 1779, as one of the counsel for Admiral Keppel; and, in the spring of the same year, established his fame, by appearing at the bar of the house of commons, for a bookseller, named Carnan, when he successfully opposed a bill intended to renew the monopoly of printing almanacks. Such was the effect of his argument and eloquence, that though Lord North, who had introduced the bill, had requested his brother-in-law, Lord Elliott, to come from Cornwall, expressly to support the measure, that nobleman voted against it, declaring openly, in the lobby, that after Ňr. Erskine's speech, he could not conscientiously act otherwise.
In February, 1781, he appeared as counsel for Lord George Gordon, who was acquitted; and, in 1783, so high was his reputation, that though he had been only five years at the bar, it was thought advisable to confer upon him a patent of precedence. In the same year, he was brought into parliament as member for Portsmouth, and spoke in favour of the India bill, introduced by the Whig ministry, though bis speech on the occasion greatly disappointed the expectation of his friends, and gave to his enemies a handle for detraction.
In 1784, he defended, with his customary talent, the Dean of St. Asaph, who had been indicted for publishing the Dialogue between a Gentleman and a Farmer, written by Sir William Jones; and, in the course of the trial, boldly avowed his concurrence with the defendant's principles. Having some misunderstanding with Judge Buller, as to the wording of the verdict, he was told to sit down; when he declared that he knew his duty as well as his lordship knew his, and that he would not alter his conduct
He was, soon after, appointed attorney-general to the Prince of Wales; and in 1789, defended Mr.
Rochdale, with success, for a libel reflecting on the house of commons.
In the session of 1790, he spoke in parliament on the abatement of impeachments by a dissolution, and was so exhausted in the course of his speech, that he was unable to continue his argument. In 1792, he opposed the introduction of the traitorous correspondence bill, and supported a motion made by Mr. (afterwards Lord) Grey, for a reform of parliament. In the same year, he acted as counsel for Thomas Paine, the author of the Rights of Man, and was, in consequence, deprived of his office of attorney-general to the Prince of Wales. In 1793, he appeared as the advocate of a Mr. Frost, an attorney, charged with uttering seditious language in a public coffee-room ; and, in the following year, defended, at Lancaster, a gentleman named Walker, who was indicted for a conspiracy to overthrow the government. In the ensuing October, he distinguished himself by his brilliant defence of Hardy, and others, for a conspiracy; by whose acquittal he saved the country from a horrible extension of the law of constructive treason. The interest excited by the trial had never been equalled, and so dense was the mob outside the court, that the judges could scarcely proceed to or from their carriages. He was equally successful in favour of Horne Tooke, who was arraigned immediately after the other prisoners had been pronounced not guilty. He continued to advocate, in the house of commons, those principles capable of preserving and promoting public liberty; and, in April, 1800, on the trial of Hadfield, for shooting at the king, hé, in an admirable speech, replete with argument, completely established the derangement of the prisoner.
In 1802, he visited Paris, and was presented to Napoleon; who, however, passed him with the simple question, Etes vous légisté? In the same year, he became attorney-general to the Prince of Wales, who revived in his person also the dormant office of chancellor and keeper of the seals of the Duchy of Cornwall. In 1803, he acted as commander of the Law Volunteers; but resigned the post in 1806, on his appointment to the office of lord high chancellor. He resigned in 1807, and appeared but little in public life subsequently to that period.
During his latter years he imprudently formed a second marriage with a person in a very
capacity, and his private anxieties were considerably increased by pecuniary embarrassment. The Prince Regent bestowed upon him, in 1815, the order of the Thistle; and, he died of an inflammation of the chest, on the 17th of November, 1823, at Almondale, about six miles from Edinburgh. He had three sons and five daughters by his first wife, and had other children by his second.
The eloquence of Lord Erskine was not characterized merely by the elegance of its diction and the graces of its style, but was peculiarly remarkable for its strength and earnestness. The excellence of his speeches did not consist merely in the beauty of separate passages, but even in the longest of his oratorical displays there was no weakness or flagging. Being without that deep legal knowledge so necessary to an advocate, he, with admirable tact, supplied its place, by an undeviating adherence to one great principle of justice, by which he gave an air of sincerity to his arguments. His eloquence was addressed more to the feelings than to the taste of his audience; his ornaments, it has been said, were rather those of sentiment than of diction. Notwithstanding the strength of his own powers, both mental and physical, he frequently took laudanum to assist them; and was much encouraged in his address, if he observed that a fellow advocate concurred with his arguments. He generally used, whilst speaking, to turn to Garrow, for a look of applause; and, on one occasion, not finding it, whispered to him, who do you think can get on, with that d-d wet blanket of a face of yours before
him ?" He was also equally averse to a disagreeable, as a disagreeing countenance; and, on one occasion, seeing a barrister whose mouth was in continual contortion, he whispered to one of his colleagues, that he could not proceed if the fellow was not removed. He seldom displayed much humour; a deficiency that may have arisen from the generally serious character of the subjects he had to treat of. His speeches exhibit frequent evidence of deep philosophical reflection; displaying, it has been remarked, a profound acquaintance with nature and the springs of human action. However completely his mind might appear absorbed in the subject of his address, he had the singular faculty of being alive to the emotions expressed in the faces of the jury, which he always made the guide of his oratory. Such was his independence, that he would never allow himself to be deterred by the judge from the rigid performance of his duty; and the same spirit of honesty led him sometimes, as in the case of Paine, to sacrifice the highest political advantages. He never degraded his character by base servility to the government; but reached the highest point of legal preferment by a road in which his integrity did not incur the slightest blemish. As chancellor, he was so short a time in office, that it is impossible to speak fairly of his qualifications for that exalted station; though it is certain, he would have administ d the laws with at least unsullied impartialitv often regretted his appointment to the e' vrship; his acceptation of which, prevente com again pleading at the bar, and laid the fou un of his subsequent difficulties. Indeed, he used 0 say to his friends, that his only reason for having accepted the chancellorship was to verify the prediction of his mother, as he might have been lord-keeper instead; an office which would not have prevented him from resuming his situation of advocate. In parliament he disappointed the admirers of his splendid talents, but increased the respect of those who venerated the enlarged liberality and consistency of his principles. In court, his demeanour towards the bench was respectful without being subservient; and, to his professional brethren, he was remarkably courteous." He is said to have possessed some vanity; and even had a few weaknesses, which appear to be much at variance with the general greatness of his character. He used to keep the audience, in a crowded court, waiting for a few minutes after a cause had been called on, before he made his appearance; and when he entered, was invariably distinguished by a pair of new yellow gloves, and a wig dressed with more care than those of his brother barristers. He and Dr. Parr, who were both remarkably conceited, were in the habit of conversing together, and complimenting each other on their respective abilities. On one of these occasions, Parr promised that he would write Erskine's epitaph ; to which the other replied, that “such an intention on the doctor's part was alrnost a temptation to commit suicide."
Lord Erskine had received a religious education, and was deeply impressed with the excellence of the Christian doctrine. He was aware that he had some moral failings of his own; but they did not arise from any disregard to the duties of religion.
His errors were, however, not of a flagrant kind; and, compared with his many virtues, were said to be “spots in the sun,” by Lord Kenyon, who was a sincere admirer of his character.
Lord Erskine had many personal advantages. His features were animated and regular, and his action extremely graceful. His constitution was remarkably strong; and, for twenty-seven years that he had been in practice, he was never prevented froin attending court one day by bodily indisposition.