Edinburgh Bookshelf

Kay's Originals Vol. 1


126 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. awoke her husband in the middle of the night, by putting to him the appalling interrogatory, " Harry, love, where's your white waistcoat While Mr. Erskine practised at the bar, it was his frequent custom tcr walk, after the rising of the Court, to the Meadows, and he was often accompanied by Lord Balmuto, one of the judges-a very good kind of man, but not particularly quick in the perception of the ludicrous. His lordship never could discover, at first, the point of Mr. Erskine's wit, and after walking a mile or two perhaps, and long after Mr. Erskine had forgotten the saying, he would suddenly cry out, " I have you now, Harry-I have you now, Harry !" stopping and bursting into an immoderate fit of laughter. With all the liveliness of fancy, however, and with all these shining talents, Mr. Erskine's habits were domestic in an eminent degree. His wishes and desires are pleasingly depictured in the following lines by himself :- I' Let sparks and topers o'er their bottles sit, Toss bumpeis down, and fancy laughter wit ; Let cautious plodders o'er their ledger pore, Note down each farthing gain'd, and wish it more ; Let lawyen dream of wigs, poets of fame, Scholars look learn'd, and senators declaim ; Let soldiers stand, like targets in the fray, Their lives just worth their thirteenpence a-day. Give me a nook in some secluded spot, Which business shuns, and din approaches not- Some snug retreat, where I may never know What Monarch reigns, what Ministers bestow- A book-my slippers-and a field to stroll in- My garden-seadan elbow-chair to loll in- Sunshine, when wanted-shade, when shade invites- With pleasant country laurels, smells, and sights, And now and then a glass of generous wine, Shared with a chatty friend of ' anld langsyne ; ' And one companion more, for ever nigh, To sympathise in all that passes by, To journey with me in the path of life, And share its pleasures, and divide its strife. These simple joys, Eugenius, let me find, And I'll ne'er cast a lingering look behind." Mr. Erskine was long a member of the Scottish Antiquarian Society. One of the members remarked to him that he was a very bad attender of their meetings, adding, at same, time, that he never gave any donations to the Society. A short time afterwards he wrote a letter to the Secretary apologising for not attending the meetings, and stating that he had " inclosed a donation, which, if you keep long enough, will be the greatest curiosity you have ! "-This was a guinea of'George 111. 1 The relater of this anecdote thus incidentally speaks of his reminiscences of Mr. Erskine, as he appeared in his retreat at Almonddell :-'' I recollect the very gray hat that he used to wear, with a bit of the rim torn, and the pepper-and-salt short coat, and the white neckcloth sprinkled with snuff."
Volume 8 Page 183
  Enlarge Enlarge  
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 127 He had an inveterate propensity for puns. A person once said to him that punning was the lowest species of wit, to which he replied, ‘‘ Then it must be the best species, since it is the foundation of the whole.” Mr. Erskine meeting an old friend one morning returning from St. Bernard’s Well, which he knew he was in the habit of daily visiting, exclaimed, “Oh, U ! Being told that Knox, who had long derived his’livelihood by keeping the door of the Parliament-House, had been killed by a shot from a small cannon on the King’s birthday, he observed that “it was remarkable a man should live by the civil and die by the cannon law.” Lord Kellie was once amusing his company with an account of a sermon he had heard in a church in Italy, in which the priest related the miracle of St. Anthony, when preaching on shipboard, attracting the fishes, which, in order to listen to his pious discourse, held their heads out of the water. “ I can well believe the miracle,” said Mr. Henry Erskine. “How so’?”-‘‘When your lordship was at church, there was at least one fish out of the water.” Mr. Erskine of Alva, a Scotch Advocate, afterwards one of the Senators of the College of Justice, and who assumed the title of Lord Barjarg, a man of diminutive stature, was retained as counsel in a very interesting cause, wherein the Hon. Henry Erskine appeared for the opposite party. The crowd in court being very great, in order to enable young Alva to be seen and heard more advantageously, a chair was brought him to stand upon. Mr. Erskine quaintly remarked, “That is one way of Thing at the bar.” An English nobleman, walking through the New Town in company with Mr. Erskine, remarked how odd it was that St. Andrew’s Church should so greatly project, whilst the Physicians’ Hall, immediately opposite, equally receded. Mr. Erskine admitted that George Street would have been, without exception, the finest street in Europe, if the forwardness of the clergy, and the backwardness of the physicians, had not marred its unqormity. One day Mr. Erskine was dining at the house of Mr. William Creech, bookseller, who was rather penurious, and entertained his guests on that occasion with a single bottle of Cape wine, though he boasted of some particularly fine Madeira wine he happened to possess. Mr, Erskine made various attempts to induce his host to produce a bottle of his vaunted Madeira, but to no purpose ; at length he said, with an air of apparent disappointment, “Well, well, since we can’t get to Madeira, we must just double the Cape.” In his latter years Mr. Erskine was very much annoyed at the idea that his witticisms might be collected together in a volume. Aware of this, a friend of his resolved to tease him, and having invited him to dinner, he, in the course of the evening, took up a goodly-looking volume, and, turning over the pages, began to laugh heartily. “What is the cause of your merriment?” exclaimed the guest. ‘‘ Oh, it’s only one of your jokes, Harry.”-“ Where did you get it ?”- “Oh, in the new work just published, entitled The Nezo Complete Jester, or I see you never weary in well-doing.” 7
Volume 8 Page 184
  Enlarge Enlarge