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the bar, and therefore the remaining years of his life were unimportant, and not without disappointment. The great advocate died November 17, 1823, in the seventy-fourth year of his

age. Erskine was not only the greatest of English advocates, but he is entitled to the still higher distinction of having given so clear an exposition of some of the most subtle principles at the basis of human liberty, as to cause them to be generally recognized and accepted. It was his lot to be much more frequently employed in defence, than in prosecution, and many of his arguments in behalf of his clients are marvels of clear and enlightened exposition of those fundamental rights on which English liberty is established. His speeches in behalf of Gordon, Hadfield, Hardy, and Tooke, constitute, as a whole, the clearest exposition ever made of the law of treason. Of the speech in defence of Gordon, Lord Campbell goes so far as to say: “Here I find not only great acuteness, powerful reasoning, enthusiastic zeal, and

burning eloquence, but the most masterly view ever given of the English law of high treason, the foundation of all our liberties.” The plea in behalf of Stockdale, commonly considered the finest of Erskine's speeches, is perhaps a still more felicitous exposition of the principles involved in the law of libel. Of his speech on the rights of juries, Campbell says that it displayed “beyond all comparison the most perfect union of argument and eloquence ever exhibited in Westminster Hall." His address in behalf of Paine, if somewhat less successful than the great efforts just alluded to, was still a remarkable presentation of the principles of free speech. But the most noteworthy characteristic of Erskine was that notwithstanding the depth and ingenuity and learning of his arguments, his whole presentation was so illumined by the glow of his genius, that his address was always listened to with the greatest popular interest. His speech in behalf of Hardy was seven hours in length, but the crowd of eager auditors not only heard him to

the end, but “burst out into irrepressible acclamations which spread through the vast multitude outside and were repeated to a great distance around.”

It need scarcely be added that for students of English law, Erskine is the most important of all the English orators.




Nearly all of Erskine's speeches were several hours in length and so logically constructed as not to admit of abridg. ment or excision. The more elaborate of them, therefore, are not adapted to the purposes of this collection. It happens, however, that one of the briefest of his forensic addresses was the one on which he himself looked with most satisfaction. Of the speech delivered on the prosecution of Williams he is reported to have said: “I would rather that all my other speeches were committed to the flames, or in any manner buried in oblivion, than that a single page of it should be lost.” Erskine's “Speeches,” Am. ed., vol. i., p. 571.

It is an interesting fact that the same great advocate who gave all his powers to the defence of Paine for publishing the

Rights of Man," was equally earnest in the prosecution of Williams for the publication of the same author's “ Age of Reason." But the explanation is easy. In the former work the author criticised, in what Erskine regarded as a legitimate way, the character and methods of the English Government; in the latter he assailed what the advocate regarded as the very foundations of all government and all justice. The difference

between the two is pointed out in the following speech with a skill that will give the reader a good example of the orator's method.


The charge of blasphemy, which is put upon the record against the publisher of this publication, is not an accusation of the servants of the crown, but comes before you sanctioned by the oaths of a grand jury of the country. It stood for trial upon a former day; but it happening, as it frequently does, without any imputation upon the gentlemen named in the panel, that a sufficient number did not appear to constitute a full special jury, I thought it my duty to withdraw the cause from trial, till I could have the opportunity of addressing myself to you who were originally appointed to try it.

I pursued this course from no jealousy of the common juries appointed by the laws for the ordinary service of the court, since my whole life has been one continued experience of their virtues; but because I thought it of great importance that those who were to decide upon a cause so very momentous to the public, should have the highest possible qualifications for the decision; that they should not only be men capable from their educations of forming an

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