S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[Thomas Erskine, an eminent British advocate; born in Edinburgh, January, 1750; entered the navy, and afterwards purchased a commission in the army; studied law, and was called to the bar, 1778; defended the libel and treason cases; entered Parliament, 1783; lord chancellor, and raised to the peerage, 1806; retired, 1807; died November, 1823.]
When Thelwall, on trial for high treason, during the examination of a witness for the prosecution, wrote on a slip of paper, and sent it over to Erskine, Ill be hanged if I dont plead my own cause, his counsel replied in the same manner, You will be hanged if you do. Thelwall then wrote, Then Ill be hanged if I do.
He was told that one of his acquaintance had died worth two hundred thousand pounds. Thats a pretty sum to begin the next world with, remarked Erskine.
He had the following unique form of replying to begging letters: Sir, I feel honored by your application, and I beg to subscribe [here the reader had to turn over the leaf] myself, your very obedient servant.
That which is called firmness in a king, he once said, is called obstinacy in a donkey.
The older a lamb grows, the more sheepish he becomes.
When counsellor Lamb said he felt himself growing more and more timid as he grew older.
Sydney Smith once commented on his prevailing article of diet: We have had so much mutton lately, that I dare not look a sheep in the face.
When the hour comes when all things are revealed, said Erskine, we shall know the reasonwhy shoes are made too tight.
His friend, Mr. Maylem, told him that his physician had ordered him not to bathe. Oh! then you are malum prohibitum, replied Erskine. My wife, however, does bathe, added his friend. Worse still, was the advocates quick rejoinder; for she is malum in se!
When asked, while lord chancellor, whether he would attend the ministerial whitebait dinner at Greenwich; To be sure I will, he replied. What would your fish dinner be without the Great Seal?
The only use of an oath in parliamentary debate occurs in a very vigorous speech which Lord Erskine made in opposition to the Seditious Meetings Bill, in the session of 179596: For my own part, I shall never cease to struggle in support of liberty. In no situation will I desert the cause. I was born a free man, and, by G, I will never die a slave!