« AnteriorContinuar »
souri; if he keeps this injureil man suspended, or dares to turn that suspension into a removal, I shall then not scruple to declare him an accomplice in their guilt, a shameless oppressor, a disgrace to his rank, and a traitor to his trust." * * "FINE AND IMPRISONMENT! The man deserves a palace instead of a prison who prevents the palace, built by the public bounty of his country, from being converted into a dungeon, and who sacrifices his own security to the interests of humanity and virtue.” Considering all the circumstances of the case, it is not surprising that Lord Campbell should pronounce this “ the most wonderful forensic effort which we have in our annals." It is hardly necessary to say that the decision was for the defendant : the rule was dismissed with costs.
Never did a single case so completely make the fortune of any individual. Er skine entered Westminster Hall that morning not only in extreme poverty, but with no reasonable prospect of an adequate subsistence for years. He left it a rich man. He received thirty retainers from attorneys who were present, it is said, while retiring from the hall. Not only was his ambition gratified, but the comfort and independence of those whose happiness he had staked on his success as a lawyer were secured for life. Some one asked him, at a later period, how he dared to face Lord Mansfield so boldly on a point where he was clearly out of order, when he beauti. fully replied, “I thought of my children as plucking me by the robe, and saying, *Now, father, is the time to get us bread.'” His business went on rapidly increas ing, until he had an annual income of £12,000.
The next year he added to his reputation by a masterly defense of Admiral Kep. pel before a court-martial at Portsmouth. His experience in naval affairs recommend. ed him for this service, and he performed it with unabated zeal for thirteen days, which were spent in examining witnesses and arguing points of order, after which he wrote out the speech which the Admiral read to the court. This was followed by a unanimous verdict of acquittal; and so strongly did Keppel feel the value of the young advocate's services, that he addressed him a note in token of his gratitude containing a present of a thousand pounds, adding, “I shall ever rejoice in this commencement of a friendship which I hope daily to improve.” Erskine, with the boy, ish hilarity which always marked his character, hastened to the villa of the Reynollses, and, displaying his bank-notes, exclaimed, “ Voilà the non-suit of cow-beef, my good friends."
He came into the House five years aster, in November, 1783, as a supporter of the Coalition ministry of Mr. Fox and Lord North. Nearly all the lawyers being on the other side, great reliance was placed on his services by the friends of the new government. But they were sorely disappointed. His habits were not suited to par. liamentary debate. His understanding was eminently a legal one; he wanted the stimulus and encouragement of a listening court and jury; and was embarrassed by the presence of sneering opponents ready to treat him with personal indignity. His vanity now turned to his disadvantage, and put him in the power of his antagonists. When he commenced his maiden speech, says Mr. Croly, in his Life of George IV., “Mr. Pitt, evidently intending to reply, sat with pen and paper in his hand, prepared to catch the arguments of his formidable adversary. He wrote a word or two. Er. skine proceeded; but, with every additional sentence, Pitt's attention to the paper relaxed, his look became more careless, and he obviously began to think the orator less and less worthy of his attention. At length, while every eye in the House was fixed upon him, with a contemptuous smile he dashed the pen through the paper, and flung them on the floor. Erskine never recovered from this expression of disdain; his voice faltered, he struggled through the remainder of his speech, and sank into his seat dispirited and shorn of his fame." Sheridan remarked to him at a later period, “ I'll tell you how it happens, Erskine ; you are afraid of Pitt and that is tha
dabby part of your character." There was too much truth in the remark Erskine could bear any thing but contempt. He recovered himself, however, at a later pe riod of life, and made quite a number of very able and eloquent speechis; in fact, he would have stood high as a parliamentary orator, if he had not so completely outshone himself by the brilliancy of his efforts in Westminster Hall.
“As an advocate in the forum," says Lord Campbell, “ I hold him to be without an equal in ancient or modern times." What is rare in one of so brilliant a genius he had no less power with the court than with the jury. It was remarked of bir as of Scarlett, that “ he had invented a machine by the secret use of which, in court he could make the head of a judge nod assent to his propositions ; whereas his riv als, who tried to pirate it, always made the same head move from side to side." He was certainly not a profound lawyer, as the result of original investigation ; his short period of study rendered this impossible. But he had the power of availing himself inore completely than almost any man that ever lived, of the knowledge collected for his use by others. His speech on the Rights of Juries, in the case of the Dean of St. Asaph, is universally admitted to show "a depth of learning which would have done honor to Selden or Hale ;” and so completely had he thrown his mind into the case, and made himself master of what black-letter lawyers spent months in searching out as the materials of his brief, that he poured forth all this learning, in his argument before the court, with the freshness and precision of one who had spent his life in such researches. He always, indeed, grasped a cause so firmly, that he never forgot a principle or a decision, an analogy or a fact which made for his client, while he showed infinite dexterity in avoiding the difficulties of his case, and turn ing to his own advantage the unexpected disclosures which sometimes come out in the progress of a trial. Nothing could be more incorrect than the idea of some, that Erskine owed his success chiefly to the warmth and brilliancy of his genius. The dryest special pleader never managed a cause with greater caution. Even in his Indian Chief, in the case of Stockdale (p. 696), a passage which verges more toward poetry thar, any thing in our eloquence, he was still, as a writer in the Edinburgh Review remarks, "feeling his way every step he took.” His boldness was equal to his caution. In his defense of the liberty of the press, and of the rights of the subject when assailed by the doctrine of constructive treason, he had some of the sever: est conflicts with the court which any advocate was ever called to maintain. When the jury, in the case of the Dean of St. Asaph, brought in their verdict, “Guilty of pub. lishing only," which would have the effect of clearing the defendant, Justice Buller, who presided, acting on the principle then held by the court, considered it beyond their province to make this addition, and determined they should withdraw it. Er skine, on the other hand, seized upon the word the moment it was uttered, and demanded to have it recorded. After some sparring between him and the court, he put the question to the foreman, “Is the word only to stand as a part of the verdict ?" “ Certainly," was the reply. “Then I insist it shall be recorded,” says Erskine. "The verdict,” says Buller, “must be misunderstood : let me understand the jury." “The jury," replied Erskine, “do understand their verdict.” Buller. “Sir, I will not be interrupted.” Erskine. “I stand here as an advocate for a brother citizen, and I desire the word only may be recorded.” Buller. “SIT DOWN, SIR. REMEM BER YOUR DUTY, or I SHALL BE OBLIGED TO PROCEED IN ANOTHER MANNER." Erskine. “Your LordSHIP MAY PROCEED IN WHAT MANNER YOU THINK FIT ; I KNOW MY DUTY AS WELL AS YOUR LORDSHIP KNOWS YourS. I SHALL NOT ALTER MY CON DUCT.” The spirit of the judge sunk before the firmness of the advocate ; no attempt was made to carry the threat into execution.
It was this mixture of boldness and caution, it was the keen sagacity and severe Wgic of Erskine, which laid the foundation of his unrivaled power over a jury. I
was owing to these qualities that, when he threw into his argument all the olrengia of his ardent feelings, and all that beauty and richness of illustration which his glow ing fancy supplied, no one ever suspected him of wishing to play upon their passions ; the appeal was still so entirely to their intellect, that the jury gave him their sym. pathies without hesitation or reserve. And if he seemed to digress for a moment from the line of his reasoning, as he sometimes did for the sake of relieving the minds of his auditors, he still showed the same sagacity in turning even this to the further ance of his argument, for he always brought back with him from these excursions some weighty truth which he had gathered by the way, and which served to give a new and startling force to the urgency of his appeal. To these qualities he addel. a good-humored cheerfulness in the most difficult cases, which put him on the best terms with the court and jury. They wished him to succeed, even when they had made up their minds that he must fail. It is easy to see the advantage he thus gained. Sometimes, under his management, the worst cause seemed wholly to change its aspect; as in the case of Hadfield (given below), in which Kenyon, who presided, showed himself at first to be strongly prejudiced against the prisoner, but had his views so entirely changed that, at the close of Erskine's argument, he took the extraordinary step of recommending to the Attorney General not to proceed in the case, but to allow an immediate acquittal. Only one trait more will be added to his character as an advocate. He was uniformly kind to the younger members of the profession. He was the last man on earth to injure or depress a rival. When Sir James Mackintosh made his celebrated defense in the case of Peltier-a case which he might naturally expect, from his superior age and devotion to a free press, would have been committed to his care-he showed no mean jealousy; he attended the trial, and, before retiring to bed that night, addressed a note to the young advocate expressing his warmest admiration of the defense, as “one of the most splendid monuments of genius, learning, and eloquence.”
Nine of Mr. Erskine's ablest arguments are given in this collection. It is unnec essary here to dwell upon their merits or the circumstances out of which they sprung: theze are detailed at large in the Introductions which precede the speeches. The writer would only urge upon the general student in oratory not to pass over, as belonging exclusively to the lawyer, the four great arguments of Erskine in the cases of Lord George Gordon, of the Dean of St. Asaph, of Hardy, and of Hadfield. The technical terms are briefly explained in notes, so that no embarrassment need arise from this cause. As specimens of acute and powerful reasoning, enlivened occasionally by glowing eloquence, they are among the finest efforts of genius in our language. Nothing can be more useful to our young orators of any profession, than to make themselves perfectly acquainted with these admirable specimens of reasoning, whatever toil it may cost them. Such productions, as Johnson said of a similar class of writings, “ are bark and steel to the mind.”
Mr. Erskine, as already mentioned, came into Parliament in 1783, as the friend and supporter of Mr. Fox. He adhered to him in all his reverses, and at last shared in his success. When Lord Grenville and Mr. Fox came into power in 1806, Er. Ekine was appointed Lord Chancellor, thus verifying a prediction which he made twenty-seven years before, just after he was called to the bar, and which (for he was inclined to be superstitious) he probably ascribed to some supernatural agency. “ Willie,” said he to his friend William Adam, after a long silence, as they were rid. ing together over a blasted heath between Lewes and Guilford, in 1779, “ Willie, the time will come when I shall be Lord Chancellor, and the Star of the Thistle shall blaze on my bosom!" His dream was now accomplished. But the office of Lord Chancellor was one to which he was very little suited. All his practice had lain in another direction : he was wholly unacquainted with the laws of property, so essen. tial to the decision of cases in "hancery; and “the doctrines which prevail in the courts of equity,” as Sir Samuel Romilly remarked, “were to him almost like the aws of a foreign country.” He had always thrown contempt upon proceedings is these courts; and was sometimes taunted with his pathetic appeal to Lord Kenyon, when recommending that his client should apply to chancery for redress : “ Would your Lordship send a dog you loved there?" Still, he endeavored to gain what information he could on the subject at his period of life, and said humorously to Rom. illy, who excelled in this knowledge of these proceedings, “ You must make me a chancellor now, that I may afterward make you one." Though he added no horor to the office, he did not disgrace it. None of his decisions except one were ever called in question, and that was affirmed by the House of Lords. He presided with dignity, and when he retired from office, as he did at the end of thirteen months, Sir Arthur Pigot addressed him in the name of the bar, expressing " their grateful sense of the kindness shown them while he presided."
The remainder of Erskine's life was saddened by poverty, and unworthy of his early fame. The usages of the profession forbade his returning to the bar; the pension on which he retired was small; the property he had gained was wasted in speculations; and his early sense of character was unhappily lost, to some extent, in the general wreck of his fortunes. He died on a visit to Scotland, at Almondell, the residence of his sister-in-law, on the 17th of November, 1823, in the seventy-third year of his age.
The oratory of Erskine owed much of its impressiveness to his admirable delivery. He was of the medium height, with a slender but finely-turned figure, animated and graceful in gesture, with a voice somewhat shrill but beautifully modulated, a coun: tenance beaming with emotion, and an eye of piercing keenness and power. “Juries," in the words of Lord Brougham, “have declared that they felt it impossible to remove their looks from him, when he had riveted, and, as it were, fascinated them by his first glance; and it used to be a common remark of men who observed his motions, that they resembled those of a blood-horse ; as light, as limber, as much betokening strength and speed, as free from all gross superfluity or encumbrance."
His style was chaste, forcible, and harmonious, a model of graceful variety, without the slightest mannerism or straining after effect. His rhythmus was beautiful ; that of the passage containing his Indian Chief is surpassed by nothing of the kind in our language. His sentences were sometimes too long--a fault which arose from the closeness and continuity of his thought.
The exordium with which Erskine introduced a speech was always natural, ingenious, and highly appropriate ; none of our orators have equaled him in this respect. The arrangement of the matter which followed was highly felicitous; and he had this peculiarity, which gave great unity and force to his arguments, that "he proposed," in the words of another, “a great leading principle, to which all his efforts were referable and subsidiary--which ran through the whole of his address, governing and elucidating every part. As the principle was a true one, whatever might be its application to that particular case, it gave to his whole speech an air of hon · esty and sincerity which it was difficult to resist.”.
* The Rev. Dr. Emmons, one of the acutest reasoners among the divines of New England, was accustomed (as the writer is directly informed) to read the Massachusetts Reports as they came out for the pleasure and benefit they afforded him as specimens of powerful reasoning. Would not oor vaung divines find similar benefit from the study of great legal arguments liko these of Erskine
SPEECH 01 MR. ERSKINE IN BEHALF OF LORD GEORGE GORDON WHEN INI (OTED FOR HIGH TREASUR
DELIVERED BEFORE THE COURT OF THE KING'S BENCH, FEBRUARY 5, 1781.
INTRODUCTION. LORD GEORGE (JORDon, a njember of the House of Commons, was a young Scottish nobleman of weak Intellect and enthusiastic feelings. He had been chosen president of the Protestant Association, whose object was to procure the repeal of Sir George Saville's bill in favor of the Catholics. In this capacity, he directed the association to meet him in St. George's Fields, and proceed thence to the Parliament Hvuse with a petition for the repeal of the bil. Accordingly, about forty thousand persons of the middling rlasses assembled on Friday, the 2d of June, 1780, and, aster forming a procession, moved forward till they blocked up all the avenues to the House of Commons. They bad no arms of any kind, and were most of them orderly in their conduct, though individuals among them insulted some members of both Houses who were passing into the building, requiring them to put blue cockades or their hats, and to cry "No Popery !"
Lord George presented the petition, but the House refused to consider it at that time, by a vote of 192 to 6. The multitude now became disorderly, and after the House adjourned, bodies of men proceeded to demolish the Catholic chapels at the residences of the foreign ministers. From this moment the whole affair changed its character. Desperate men, many of them thieves and robbers, took the lead. Not only were Catholic chapels set on fire, but the London prisons were broken open and destroyed; thirty-six fires were blazing at one time during the night; the town was for some days completely in the power of the multitude ; Lord Mansfield's house was destroyed; the breweries and distilleries were broken open, and the mob became infuriated with liquor; and for a period there was reason to apprehend that the whole of the metropolis might be made one general scene of conflagration. The military were at last called in from the country, and, after a severe conflict, the mob was put down; but not until nearly fivo hundred persons had been killed or wounded, exclusive of those who perished from the effects of intoxi cation.
The government had been taken by surprise: no adequate provision was made to guard against vio. tice, and, as the riots went on, all authority for a time seemed to be paralyzed or extinct. When order was at last restore-1, the magistrates, as is common with those who have neglected their duty, endeavored to throw the blame on others—they resolved to make Lord George Gordon their scapegoat. He was ac. cordingly arraigned for high treason; and such was the excitement of the pablic mind, such the eager. ness to have some onu punished, that he was in imminent danger of being made the victim of public resentment. It was happy for him that, in addition to Mr. (afterward Lord) Kenyon, his senior counsel a man of sound mind, but wholly destitute of eloquence, he had chosen Mr. Erskine, as a Scotcbman, to aid in Lis defense. It was the means probably of saving his life.
The Attorney General opered the case in behalf of the Crown, contending (1.) That the prisoner, in assembling the multitude round the two Houses of Parliament, was guilty of high treasun, if he did so with a view to overawe and intimidate the Legislature, and enforce his purposes by numbers and violence (a doctrine fully confirmed by the aiurt); and (2.), That the overt acts proved might be fairly construed into such a design, and were the only evidence by which a traitorous intention, in such a case, could be shown. When the evidence for the Crown was received, Mr. Kenyon addressed the jury in behalf of Lord George Gordou, but in a manner so inefficiunt that, when he vat down, " the friends of Lord George were in an agony of apprehension." According to the usual practice, Mr. Erskine should now have followed, before the examination of his client's witnesses. But he adroitly changed the order, claiming as a privilege of the prisoner (for which he adduced a precedent) to have the evidence in his favor received at once. His object was, by meeting the evidence of the Crown with that of Lord George's witnesses as early as pos. sible, to open a way for being beard with more favor by the jary, and of commenting upon the evidence on both sides as compared together. The Rev. Mr. Middleton, a member of the Protestant Associatior , swore that he had watched the prisoner's conduct, and that he appeared to be always actuated by the greatest loyalty to the King and attachment to the Constitution—that his speeches at the meetings of the association, at Coachmakers' Hall, never contained an expression tending directly or indirectly to a repral of the bill by force-that he desired the people not even to carry sticks in the procession, and begged that riotous persons might be delivered to the constables. Mr. Evans, an eminent surgeon, de. clared that be saw Lord George Gordon in the center of one of the divisions in St. George's Fields and that it appeared from his conduct and expressions that he wished and endeavored to prevent all discrder
The reader has already seen Mr. Burke's admirable exposition of the reasons for Sir George Savillo'. bill, in his speech at Bristol, pages 299–310.