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"what you have mentioned is most probably unfounded; but these things, were they true, are only spots in the sun. As for his egotism, which they are so fond of laying to his charge, they would talk of themselves as much as Mr. Erskine does of himself, if they had the same right to do
Erskine's nonsense would set up half a dozen of such men as run him down.”
In his turn, Erskine was grateful and affectionate to Lord Kenyon, although not a little disposed occasionally to circulate epigrams, and indulge in pleasantries upon the eccentricities of that honest magistrate, whose dress, a very old pair of black velvet breeches in particular, that had sat at the Rolls,* and at Nisi-Prius for twelve years, was always considered fair game.
* Lord Kenyon was made Master of the Rolls in 1785. The Rolliad (written by T'ickell, Dr. Lawrence, and Sheridan) quotes, in a note, one of his metaphors. It was in a cause where one of the parties had tried every artifice to gain time. “ This is the last hair in the tail of procrastination." His oratory was of a most eccentric kind; it abounded with incongruities quite as ridiculous as this, and sometimes with scraps of Latin ludicrously misapplied.
These little jeux d'esprit flew about the barrister's benches, and afforded us frequent amusement. One or two of them I happen to recollect. Mr. Justice Ashurst was remarkable for a long lanky visage, not unlike that which Cervantes sketched as Don Quixote's. Erskine scribbled this ludicrous couplet on a slip of paper :
“ Judge Ashurst, with his lanthorn jaws,
Throws light upon the English laws."
The other was a Latin distich upon Mr. Justice Grose.
“ Qualis sit Grotius judex, uno accipe versu ;
Exclamat, dubitat, stridet, balbutit etmerrat.”
It was at the King of Clubs that I heard Erskine detail the story of his early professional life. He was certainly fond of the first pronoun personal ; but the story, as he told it, is an instructive exemplification of those golden opportunities, which occur but rarely in human affairs. Yet, though what is vulgarly termed luck, had its share in urging along his most rapid and prosperous career, never was chance so well seconded by great talent, by chivalrous zeal, and proud integrity of heart and conduct.
As he related it, the beginning of his fortune was ridiculously accidental.
I had scarcely a shilling in my pocket when I got my first retainer. It was sent me by a Captain Baillie, of the navy, who held an office at the Board of Greenwich Hospital ; and I was to show cause in the Michaelmas term against a rule that had been obtained against him in the preceding term, calling on him to show cause why a criminal information, for a libel reflecting on Lord Sandwich's conduct as Governor of that charity, should not be filed against him. I had met, during the long vacation, this Captain Baillie at a friend's table; and, after dinner, I expressed myself with some warmth, probably with some eloquence, on the corruption of Lord Sandwich as First Lord of the Admiralty, and then adverted to the scandalous practises imputed to him with regard to Greenwich Hospital. Baillie knudged the person who sat next to him, and asked who I was? Being told that I had been just called to the bar, and had been formerly in the navy, Baillie ex
claimed, Then, by G-! I'll have him for one of my counsel.' '
" I trudged down to Westminster-Hall, when I got the brief; and, being the junior of five who would be heard before me, never dreamed that the Court would hear me at all. The argument
Dunning, Bearcroft, Wallace, Bower, Hargrave, were all heard at considerable length, and I was to follow. Hargrave was long-winded, and tired the Court. . It was a bad omen. But as my good fortune would have it, he was afflicted with the stranguary, and was obliged to retire once or twice in the course of his argument.
This protracted the cause so long, that when he had finished, Lord Mansfield said that the remaining counsel should be heard the next morning. This was exactly what I wished. I had the whole night to arrange in my chambers what I had to say the next morning; and I took the Court with their faculties awake and freshened, succeeded quite to my own satisfaction, (sometimes the surest proof that you have satisfied others), and, as I marched along the Hall, after the rising of the judges, the attorneys flocked round me with their retainers. I have since flourished; but I have always blessed God for the providential stranguary of poor Hargrave !"
Erskine related this anecdote with those raptures of retrospection, which are among the richest luxuries of minds that have triumphed over fortune. His pleading for Captain Baillie will be long remembered as a splendid monument of his eloquence, which never arose to loftier heights than in the exposure of oppression and injustice, and in dragging forth public corruption to shame and infamy. It was a strong struggle against the Court, and against Lord Mansfield in particular, who once or twice exhorted him to moderate his language, but interposed with his usual mildness and urbanity. He went on, without abating one jot of his vehemence; and though a young man, who had never heard the sound of his own voice before in a court of law, he astonished the whole bar and the auditory by his intrepidity and firmness. The rule was dismissed.
In the disturbed times of Pitt's administration, when the French revolution had peopled men's imaginations with so many appalling chimeras of