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ciple, destructive of British liberty. What then ?-ought I to seek its suppression ?-ought I to pronounce him to be criminal who promotes its circulation? Far, far from that, I shall take care to put it into the hands of those whose principles are left to my
formation. I shall take care that they have the advantage of doing, in the regular progression of youthful study, what I have done, even in the short intervals of laborious life; that they shall transcribe with their own hands from all the works of this most extraordinary person, and from the last among the rest, - the soundest truths of religion ; the justest principles of morals, inculcated and rendered delightful by the most sublime eloquence; the highest reach of philosophy brought down to the level of common minds by the most captivating taste, the most enlightened observations on history, and the most copious collection of useful maxims from the experience of common life. All this they shall do, and separate for themselves the good from the evil, taking the one as far more than a counterpoise for the other.” In his View of the Causes and Consequences of the Present War with France, Mr. Erskine again acknowledges his obligations to the genius of Burke.
" When I look,” says he, “ into my own mind, and find its best lights and principles fed from that 'immense magazine of moral and political wisdom which he has left as an inheritance to mankind for their instruction, I feel myself repelled, by an awful and grateful sensibility, from petulantly approaching him.”
It is greatly to be lamented that so few of Lord Era skine's miscellaneous speeches at the bar have been preserved; for, though necessarily inferior in magnificence of conception and in masterly execution to his great speeches in the State Trials, they would furnish invaluable models, in each particular case, of argumentative eloquence. A few of these speeches have been preserved in a single volume, edited by Mr. Ridgway, sufficient to induce a great regret, that a more copious collection of them has not been formed. Amongst the most remarkable of them are two which require to be more particularly noticed,
from the celebrity which Lord Erskine acquired in speeches of that class:— those in the cases of Markham v. Fawcett, and Howard v. Bingham, in actions for criminal conversation ; in the former of which Mr. Erskine appeared for the plaintiff, and in the latter for the defendant. Such was the success of Mr. Erskine in cases of this kind, that he was almost invariably secured by the plaintiff, and only in three or four instances appeared as advocate for the defendant. In the first-mentioned case the sheriff's jury gave the plaintiff a verdict of seven thousand pounds, in the latter of five hundred.
The extenuating circumstance in that case was, the attachment subsisting before marriage between the defendant and the wife of the plaintiff; a circumstance of which Mr. Erskine availed himself with his characteristic boldness and ability.
“ If, therefore, Mr. Bingham this day could have by me addressed to you his wrongs, in the character of a plaintiff demanding reparation, what damages might I not have asked for him, and without the aid of this imputed eloquence, what damages might I not have expected ? I would have brought before you a noble youth, who had fixed his affections upon one of the most beautiful of her sex, and who enjoyed hers in return. I would have shown you their suitable condition. I would have painted the expectation of an honourable union, and would have concluded by showing her to you in the arms of another by the legal prostitution of parental choice in the teeth of affection : with child by a rival, and only reclaimed at last, after so cruel and so afflicting a divorce, with her freshest charms despoiled, and her very morals, in a manner, impeached by asserting the purity and virtue of her original and spotless choice. Good God ! imagine my client to be plaintiff, and what damages are you not prepared to give him!—and yet, he is bere as defendant, and damages are demanded against him. O monstrous conclusion !”
Throughout the whole course of his very distinguished professional career, Lord Erskine adhered with
constancy and fidelity to the political principles and engagements with which he began life. His ambition was of too noble a nature to look for its reward in honours meanly earned at the expense of integrity. It cannot be doubted, that many occasions occurred to him of bartering his political character for place or for emolument; but, undazzled by false splendour, he always refused to become a party to such an exchange. Nor did he ever suffer political considerations to prevent him from the due and just discharge of his professional duties preferring, as in the case of Paine, the certain loss of office and advancement, to the sullying of his high professional character.
It would be inexcusable in this place to omit the following fine observations on the professional character of Lord Erskine, from the pen, it has been said, of a most distinguished person, himself a very illustrious ornament of the profession which was once adorned by the splendid genius and elevated by the lofty reputation of Erskine. professional life of this eminent person, who has of late years reached the highest honours of the law, is in every respect useful as an example to future lawyers. It shows that a base time-serving demeanour towards the judges, and a corrupt or servile conduct towards the government, are not the only, though, from the frailty of human nature and the wickedness of the age, they may often prove the surest, roads to preferment. It exalts the character of the English barrister beyond what in former times it had attained, and holds out an illustrious instance of patriotism and independence, united with the highest legal excellence, and crowned in the worst of times with the most ample success. But it is doubly important, by proving how much a single man can do against the corruptions of his age, and how far he can vindicate the liberties of his country, so long as courts of justice are pure, by raising his single voice against the outcry of the people and the influence of the crown, at the time when the union of these opposite forces was bearing down all opposition in parliament, and daily setting at nought the most splendid talents, armed with the most just cause.
While the administration of the law flows in pure chane nels; while the judges are incorruptible, and watched by the scrutinising eyes of an enlightened bar, as well as by the jealous attention of the country; while juries continue to know and to exercise their high functions, and a single advocate of honesty and talents remains, thank God! happen what will in other places, our personal safety is beyond the reach of a corrupt ministry and their venal adherents. Justice will hold her even balance in the midst of hosts armed with gold or with steel. The law will be administered steadily, while the principles of right and wrong, the evidence of the senses themselves, the very axioms of arithmetic, may seem elsewhere to be mixed in one giddy and inextricable confusion ; and after every other plank of the British constitution shall have sunk below the weight of the crown, or been stove in by the violence of popular commotion, that one will remain, to which we are ever fondest of clinging, and by which we can always most surely be saved.” *
The great truths of religion were early impressed by education on the mind of Lord Erskine, and they continued to exercise, throughout his whole life, a powerful influence over his feelings. It was not the language of the advocate when, on the trial of Paine, he made the following eloquent profession:-“For my own part, I have been ever deeply devoted to the truths of Christianity; and my firm belief in the Holy Gospel is by no means owing to the prejudices of education (though I was religiously educated by the best of parents), but has arisen from the fullest and most continued reflections of my riper years and understanding. It forms, at this moment, the great consolation of a life which, as a shadow, passes away; and without it, I should consider my long course of health and prosperity (too long, perhaps, and too uninterrupted to be good for any man), as the dust which the wind scatters, and rather as a snare than a blessing.”
It must be admitted, that in the moral character of Lord Erskine there were failings, which more thoughtful
* Edinh, Review, vol. xvi. p. 127,
and prudent men would have avoided ; and though it may be regretted, it cannot be a matter of surprise, that he did not exhibit a union of contradictory qualities, displaying at once the ardent temperament of genius, and the blameless and passionless conduct of less sensitive natures. It is unfortunately but too true, to use his own words, that "it is the nature of every thing that is great or useful in the animate and inanimate world to be wild and irregular; and we must be contented to take them with the alloys that belong to them, or to live without them.” He was himself as deeply sensible as any one could be of his own failings, for the pardon of which he looked with confidence to the mercy-seat of God. In his speech on the trial of Stockdale, there is a passage which
may be regarded as a commentary upon his own feelings. Every human tribunal ought to take care to administer justice, as we look hereafter to have justice administered to ourselves: upon the principle on which the attorney-general prays sentence upon my client God have mercy upon us !--instead of standing before him in judgment with the hopes and consolations of Christians, we must call upon the mountains to cover us; for which of us can present for Omniscient examination a pure, unspotted, and faultless course ? But I humbly expect that the benevolent Author of our being will judge us, as I have been pointing out for your example. Holding up the great volume of our lives in his hand, and regarding the general scope of them, if he discovers benevolence, charity, and goodwill to man, beating in the heart, where he alone can look ; if he finds that our conduct, though often forced out of the path by our infirmities, has been in general well direeted, his searching eye will assuredly never pursue us into those little corners of our lives, much less will his justice select them for punishment, without the general context of our existence, by which faults may be sometimes found to have grown out of virtues, and very many of our heaviest offences to have been grafted, by human imperfection, upon the best and kindest of our affections. No, gentlemen, believe