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very little of the fire and energy which distinguish his orations at the bar. It was principally confined to a vindication, or rather an apology, for the society of the Friends of the People, and for himself in becoming a member of the society. He concluded with an ungraceful reference to his own success in his profession. “ The measures of the association,” he said, so much alluded to, were the most likely to preserve the peace of the country, and it was therefore he had subscribed to them. If their tendency was otherwise, he must be the worst of lunatics, his situation being considered,
unparalleled success, his prosperity so wonderful, when his origin was viewed, his present possession of every thing to make a man happy, and his prospects which there was nothing to interrupt. Why should he then waste his own constitution, when he was endeavouring to preserve that of the country, and when he might be in peace with his family, if his attempts were to endanger that prosperity which was so dear to him?" *
In the year 1793, Mr. Erskine appeared as the advocate of Mr. John Frost, an attorney, who was indicted for uttering seditious words at the Percy coffee-house. The words, which were certainly of a character sufficiently seditious, were spoken after dinner, and in the excitement of argument, and the witnesses to prove the speaking of them were certain individuals who happened to be present in the coffee-house at the time. These circumstances furnished the ingenious and skilful mind of Mr. Erskine with some admirable topics of defence, and in particular afforded him an opportunity of declaiming against that infamous system of informing, which about this period had become so fearfully common.
“ Gentlemen, it is impossible for me to form any other judgment of the impression which such a proceeding altogether is likely to make upon your minds, than that which it makes upon my own. In the first place, is society to be protected by the breach of those confidences, and by the destruction of that security and tranquillity,
* Cobbett's Parl. Deb. vol. xxix. p. 1330.
which constitute its very essence everywhere, but which, till of late, most emphatically characterised the. life of an Englishman? Is government to derive dignity and safety by means which render it impossible for any man who has the least spark of honour to step forward to serve it? Is the time come when obedience to the law and correctness of conduct are not a sufficient protection to the subject, but that he must measure his steps, select his expressions, and adjust his very looks, in the most common and private intercourses of life? Must an English gentleman in future fill his wine by a measure, lest in the openness of his soul, and whilst believing his neighbours are joining with him in that happy relaxation and freedom of thought which is the prime blessing of life, he should find his character blasted, and his person in a prison ? Does any man put such constraint upon himself in the most private moment of his life, that he would be contented to have his loosest and lightest words recorded, and set in array against him in a court of justice ? Thank God, the world lives very differently, or it would not be worth living in. There are moments when jarring opinions may be given without inconsistency, when Truth herself may be sported with without the breach of veracity, and when well-imagined nonsense is not only superior to, but is the very index to wit and wisdom. I might safely assert, taking, too, for the standard of my assertion the most honourably correct and enlightened societies in the kingdom, that if malignant spies were properly posted, scarcely a dinner would end without a duel and an indictment.
" When I came down this morning, and found, contrary to my expectation, that we were to be stuffed into this miserable hole in the wall (the court of common pleas), to consume our constitutions, suppose I had muttered along through the gloomy passages, What! is this cursed trial of Hastings going on again ? Are we to have no respite ? Are we to die of asthma in this damned corner ? I wish to God the roof would come
down, and abate the impeachment, lords, commons, and all together. Such a wish proceeding from the mind would be desperate wickedness, and the serious expression of it a high and criminal contempt of parliament. Perhaps the bare utterance of such words without meaning would be irreverent and foolish ; but still if such expressions had been gravely imputed to me as the result of a malignant mind, seeking the destruction of the lords and commons of England, how would they have been treated in the house of commons on a motion for my expulsion ? How! the witness would have been laughed out of the house before he had half finished his evidence, and would have been voted to be too great a blockhead to deserve a worse character. Many things are, indeed, wrong and reprehensible, that neither do nor can become the object of criminal justice, because the happiness and security of social life, which are the very end and object of all law and justice, forbid the communication of them ; because the spirit of a gentleman, which is the most refined morality, either shuts men's ears against what should not be heard, or closes their lips with the sacred seal of honour.
• This tacit but well-understood and delightful come pact of social life is perfectly consistent with its safety. The security of free governments, and the unsuspecting confidence of every man who lives under them, are not only compatible but inseparable. It is easy to distinguish where the public duty calls for the violation of the private one. Criminal intention but not indecent levities-not even grave opinions, unconnected with conduct, are to be exposed to the magistrate ; and when men, which happens but seldom, without the honour or the sense to make the due distinctions, force complaints upon governments which they can neither approve of nor refuse to act upon, it becomes the office of juriesas it is yours to-day—to draw the true line in their judgments, measuring men's conduct by the safe standards of human life and experience.”
In the year 1794, Mr. Erskine was taken down spea
cial to Lancaster, to defend a gentleman of the name of Walker, who, together with some other persons, was indicted for a conspiracy to overthrow the government. This prosecution, which arose out of the exasperated party feeling of the unhappy period when it occurred, was founded entirely on the evidence of a profligate informer, who was convicted of perjury at the very same assizes at which he had attended to give evidence. The task of the advocate was, therefore, not a very difficult one; and the trial would not have been noticed in this place, if it had not been remarkable, as containing one of the very few passages approaching to the humorous that are to be found in Lord Erskine's speeches. It had been proved on the part of the prosecution, that Mr. Walker had kept various kinds of arms in his house, for the possession of which Mr. Erskine undertook to account:
“ Gentlemen, Mr. Walker's conduct had the desired effect: he watched again on the 13th of December; but the mob returned no more, and the next morning the arms were locked up in a bedchamber in his house, and where, of course, they never could have been seen by the witness, whose whole evidence commences above a week subsequent to the 11th of December, when they were finally put aside. This is the genuine history of the business, and it must therefore not a little surprise you, that when the charge is wholly confined to the use of arms, Mr. Law should not even have hinted to you that Mr. Walker's house had been attacked, and that he was driven to stand upon his defence, as if such a thing had never had an existence. Indeed, the armoury which must have been exhibited in such a statement would have but ill suited the indictment or the evidence, and I must, therefore, undertake the description of it myself.
“ The arms having been locked up, as I told you, in the bedchamber, I was shown last week into this house of conspiracy, treason, and death, and saw exposed to view this mighty armoury, which was to level the beau. tiful fabric of our constitution, and to destroy the lives and properties of ten millions of people. It consisted,
first, of six little swivels, purchased two years ago at the sale of Livesay, Hargrave, and Co. (of whom we have all heard so much), by Mr. Jackson, a gentleman of Manchester, who is also one of the defendants, and who gave them to Master Walker, a boy of about ten years of age. Swivels, you know, are guns so called, because they turn upon a pivot; but these were taken off their props, were painted, and put upon blocks resembling the carriages of heavy cannon, and in that shape may fairly be called children's toys. You frequently see them in the neighbourhood of London adorning the houses of sober citizens, who, strangers to Mr. Brown and his improvements, and preferring grandeur to taste, place them upon their ramparts at Mile End or at Islington. Having, like Mr. Dunn [the witness for the prosecution], -I hope I resemble him in nothing else,—having like him served his majesty as a soldier (and I am ready to serve again if my country's safety should require it), I took a close review of all I saw, and observing that the muzzle of one of them was broken off, I was curious to know how far this famous conspiracy had proceeded, and whether they had come into action, when I found that the accident had happened on firing a feu de joie upon his majesty's happy recovery, and that they had been afterwards fired upon the Prince of Wales's birth-day. These are the only times that, in the hands of these conspirators, these cannon, big with destruction, had opened their little mouths; once to commemorate the indulgent and benign favour of Providence in the recovery of the sovereign, and once as a congratulation to the heir apparent of his crown on the anniversary of his birth.
“ I went next, under the protection of the mastergeneral of this ordnance (Mr. Walker's chambermaid), to visit the rest of this formidable array of death, and found a little musketoon about so high (describing it). I put my thumb upon it, when out started a little bayonet, like the jack-in-the-box which we buy for children at a fair. In short, not to weary you, gentlemen, there.