Thursday, January 12, 2012

Erskine Out

“Henry Erskine was the best-natured man I ever knew, thoroughly a gentleman, and with but one fault: he could not say no, and thus sometimes misled those who trusted him.

Walter Scott wrote the comments above in his journal (April 20, 1829).  Erskine was a Whig lawyer,
at a time when, according to Lord Henry Cockburn, in “Memorials of his Time”,
 a Whig was viewed somewhat as a Papist was in the days of Titus Oates’.

Cockburn goes on to write of Erskine’s political downfall, on January 12th, 1796.  A “you’re either with us or against us” attitude is evident in Cockburn’s observations:

‘Henry Erskine, the brightest ornament of the profession, was Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. Considering the state of the times, the propriety of his presiding at a public meeting to petition against the war may be questioned. The official head of a public body should consider what is due to the principles and the feelings of those he may be supposed to represent; and to the great majority of the Faculty, Erskine’s conduct must have been deeply offensive. Still, the resolution to dismiss him was utterly unjustifiable. It was nearly unprecedented, violent, and very ungrateful. He had covered the Faculty with the lustre of his character for several years; and, if wrong, had been misled solely by a sense of duty. Nevertheless, on the 12th of January, 1796, he was turned out of office. Had he and the Faculty alone been concerned in this intemperate proceeding, it would not have occurred. But it was meant, and was taken, as a warning to all others to avoid the dangers of public meetings on the wrong side…’

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