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change and insurrection, and the terrors of criminal prosecutions spread a general panic amongst those who had distinguished themselves by their imprudent zeal for its doctrines, Erskine was always their undismayed advocate.
He told us a remarkable anecdote of Lord Loughborough in that season of political agitation. It was about the period of Paine's prosecution for his Rights of Man. Paine's retainer was sent to Erskine, who accepted it. He was then, as it is well known, high in the confidence of the Prince of Wales, and officiated as AttorneyGeneral to that illustrious person. Certain persons, who had an undue but secret influence over the councils of Carlton-House, had impressed upon his excellent understanding, that Erskine would not, though acting under the strong obligation of a retainer, reconcile a defence of Paine to his duty as a law-officer to his Royal Highness.
Shortly afterwards,” said Erskine, “ I happened to be walking home across HampsteadHeath. It was a dark November evening. I met Loughborough coming in an opposite direction, apparently with the intention of meeting me. He was also on foot. Erskine,' said he, ' I was seeking you; for I have something important to communicate to you.'—There was an unusual solemnity in his manner, and a deep hollowness in his voice. We were alone. The place was solitary. The dusk was gathering around us, and not a voice, nor a footstep was within hearing. I felt as Hubert felt, when John half opened, half suppressed the purpose of his soul in that awful conference, which Shakspeare has so finely imagined. - After a portentous pause, he began.
Erskine, you must not take Paine's brief.' • But I have been retained, and I will take it by G-' was my reply. The next day I was dismissed from the Prince's council.”
Adequately to estimate what Lord Erskine was, as a Nisi-Prius advocate, we must forget all that the English bar has produced after him. They will afford no criterion by which he can be appreciated. They are all of inferior clay :-the mere sweepings of the hall in comparison. Nor is it easy to form any tolerable idea of him, but by having seen him from day to day, from year to year, in the prime and manhood of his intellect, running with graceful facility through the chaos of briefs before him; and it is only by that personal experience, that it is possible to form any notion of the admirable versatility with which he glided from one cause to another, the irony, the humour, the good-nature, with which he laughed down the adverse case, and the vehemence and spirit with which he sustained his own.
Of the greater part of his Nisi-Prius conflicts, scarcely a memorial now exists. I shall not soon forget many of his puns, for to that equivocal species of wit, he was by no means indisposed either in the Court or at table. I particularly remember his opening a case, in which the plaintiff had brought his action against Christie, the celebrated auctioneer, to recover the deposit-money for an estate, which he had credulously purchased on Christie's representation of its beauties. of those florid descriptions, which abounded in all Christie's advertisements, the house was stated as commanding an extensive and beautiful lawn, with a distant prospect of the Needles, and as having amongst its numerous conveniences, an excellent billiard-room.
To show you, gentlemen,” said Erskine, how egregiously my client has been deceived by the defendant's rhetoric, I will tell you what this exquisite and enchanting place actually turned out to be, when my client, who had paid the deposit, on the faith of Mr. Christie's advertisement, went down, in the fond anticipations of his heart, to this earthly paradise. When he got there, nothing was found to correspond to what he had too unwarily expected. There was house, to be sure, and that is all for it was nodding to its fall, and the very“ rats instinctively had quit it. It stood, it is true, in a commanding situation, for it commanded all the winds and rains of heaven. As for the lawn, he could find nothing that deserved the name-unless it was a small yard, in which, with some contrivance, a washerwoman might hang half a dozen shirts. There was, however, a dirty lane that ran close to it; and, perhaps, Mr. Christie may contend,
, that it was an error of the press, and therefore for lawn, I suppose we must read lane. But where is the billiard-room?' exclaimed the plaintiff, in the agony of disappointment. At last, he was
conducted to a room in the attic, the ceiling of which was so low, that a man could not stand upright in it, and therefore must perforce put himself into the posture of a billiard player. Seeing this, Mr. Christie, by the magic of his eloquence, converted the place into a billiard-room. But the fine view of the Needles, gentlemen, where was it? No such thing was to be seen, and my poor client might as well have looked for a needle in a bottle of hay.”
Never did the bar of England sustain such a loss as when the Whigs removed Erskine to the seals. It was transplanting an oak into a sandy soil: its roots were infected; its majestic arms became circumscribed and stinted, and its fine foliage, from that hour, drooped and withered. Had he been transplanted to a bishoprick, it would not have been a more unnatural transition. A pastoral charge would have been easier to him than a decree in equity. Yet he laboured unintermittingly to familiarize himself to the practice of Chancery; and he acquitted himself to the satisfaction of the bar, during the short sojourn he made there; for there is an ubiquity in great