S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Lord Chancellor Erskine
The universal dispersion of the Jews throughout the world, their unexampled sufferings, and their wondrous preservation, would be sufficient to establish the truth of the Scriptures, if all other testimony were sunk to the bottom of the sea.
When I reflect that God has given to inferior animals no instincts nor faculties that are not immediately subservient to the ends and purposes of their beings, I cannot but conclude that the reason and faculties of man were bestowed upon the same principle, and are connected with his superior nature. When I find him, therefore, endowed with powers to carry as it were the line and rule to the most distant worlds, I consider it as conclusive evidence of a future and more exalted destination, because I cannot believe that the Creator of the universe would depart from all the analogies of the lower creation in the formation of his highest creature, by gifting him with a capacity not only utterly useless, but destructive of his contentment and happiness, if his existence were to terminate in the grave.
Eloquence, which consists more in the dexterous structure of periods, and in the powers of harmony of delivery, than in the extraordinary vigour of the understanding, may be compared to a human body, not so much surpassing the dimensions of ordinary nature, as remarkable for the symmetry and beauty of its parts. If the short-hand writer, like the statuary or painter, has made no memorial of such an orator, little is left to distinguish him;but in the most imperfect reliques of Foxs speeches the bones of a giant are to be discovered.
Lord-Chancellor Erskine: Letter to Mr. John Wright, Editor of Foxs Speeches.
In some, perhaps in many, cases the human mind is stormed in its citadel, and laid prostrate under the stroke of frenzy: these unhappy sufferers, however, are not so much considered by physicians as maniacs, as in a state of delirium from fever. There, indeed, all the ideas are overwhelmed, for reason is not merely disturbed, but driven from her seat. Such unhappy patients are unconscious, therefore, except at short intervals, even of external objects, or at least are wholly incapable of understanding their relations. Such persons, and such persons alone (except idiots), are wholly deprived of their understandings, in the Attorney-Generals sense of that expression. But these cases are not only extremely rare, but can never become the subjects of judicial difficulty. There can be but one judgment concerning them. In other cases Reason is not driven from her seat, but Distraction sits down upon it along with her, holds her trembling upon it, and frightens her from her propriety. Such patients are victims to delusions of the most alarming description, which so overpower the faculties, and usurp so firmly the power of realities, as not to be dislodged and shaken by the organs of perception and sense: in such cases the images frequently vary, but in the same subjects are generally of the same terrific character. Delusion, therefore, where there is no frenzy or raving madness, is the true character of insanity; and where it cannot be predicated on a man standing for life or death for a crime, he ought not, in my opinion, to be acquitted: and if courts of law were to be governed by any other principle, every departure from sober rational conduct would be an emancipation from criminal justice.
Lord-Chancellor Erskine: Speech in Defence of Hadfield, 1800.
I shall take care that they have the advantage of doing, in the regular progression of youthful study, what I have done even in the short intervals of laborious life;that they shall transcribe with their own hands, from all the works of this most extraordinary person [Burke], the soundest truths of religionthe justest principles of morals, inculcated and rendered delightful by the most sublime eloquencethe highest reach of philosophy brought down to the level of common mindsthe most enlightened observations on history, and the most copious collection of useful maxims from the experience of life.
Lord Chancellor Erskine: Speech in Defence of John Horne Tooke, 1794.
I despair altogether of making any impression by anything I can say,a feeling which disqualifies me from speaking as I ought. I have been accustomed during the greatest part of my life to be animated by the hope and expectation that I might not be speaking in vain,without which there can be no spirit in discourse. I have often heard it said, and I believe it to be true, that even the most eloquent man living (how then must I be disabled!), and however deeply impressed with the subject, could scarcely find utterance if he were to be standing up alone and speaking only against a dead wall.
Lord Chancellor Erskine: Speech in House of Lords on Amendment to Address, 1819.
A fixed rule may give rise to occasional deviations from justice; but these amount to nothing more than the price which every member of the community may be called upon to pay for the advantage of an enlightened code. No laws can be framed sufficiently comprehensive to embrace the infinite varieties of human action, and the labours of the lawgiver must be confined to the development of those principles which constitute the support and security of society. He views man with reference to the general good, and that alone. He legislates for man in general,not for particular cases.
Lord-Chancellor Erskine: Speech in the House of Lords on the Banbury Peerage Case.
I was bred, in my early youth, in two professions [Navy and Army], the characteristic of which is honour. But, after the experience of very many years, I can say with truth, that they cannot stand higher for honour than the profession of the law. Amidst unexampled temptations, which, through human frailty, have produced their victims, the great bulk of the members of it are sound; and the cause is obvious: there is something so beautiful and exalted in the faithful administration of justice, and departure from it is so odious and disgusting, that a perpetual monitor is raised up in the mind against the accesses of corruption. The same protection ought also to apply to us, the highest of the Judges.
Lord-Chancellor Erskine: Speech in the House of Lords, Trial of Queen Caroline, 1820.
It may be superstition, perhaps, but I cannot alter the nature and character of my understanding, which, as long as I can look back, has dictated to me, as a comforting truth, that the DIVINE PROVIDENCE singles out particular nations, and perhaps even individual men, to carry on the slow and mysterious system of the world. This island, although placed on the very margin of civilization, has been its example and its protector,spreading the blessings of a pure religion and of equal laws to the remotest ends of the earth. My impression, my lords, has always been, that such an unparalleled dominion is but a more exalted trust, and that if we fall off from the character which bestowed it, and which fitted us for its fulfilment, we shall be deservedly treated like sentinels who desert, or who sleep upon, their posts.
Lord-Chancellor Erskine: Speech in the House, re Trial of Queen Caroline, 1820.
For my own part, gentlemen, I have been ever deeply devoted to the truths of Christianity; and my firm belief in the Holy Gospel is by no means owing to the prejudices of education (though I was religiously educated by the best of parents), but has arisen from the fullest and most continued reflections of my riper years and understanding. It forms at this moment the great consolation of a life which as a shadow passes away; and without it I should consider my long course of health and prosperity (too long, perhaps, and too uninterrupted to be good for any man) only as the dust which the wind scatters, and rather as a snare than as a blessing.
Lord Chancellor Erskine: Speech in the Prosecution of Paine as author of The Age of Reason, 1794.
Is there a person of the least knowledge who suffers himself to doubt that in the most comprehensive meaning of Scripture, the prophecy of its [the Christian religion] universal reception is fast fulfilling, and certainly must be fulfilled? For my own part, gentlemen of the jury, I have no difficulty in saying to you, not as counsel in this cause, but speaking upon my honour, for myself (and I claim to be considered as an equal authority, at least, to Mr. Paine, on the evidence which ought to establish any truth), that the universal dispersion of the Jews throughout the world, their unexampled sufferings, and their invariably distinguished characteristics, when compared with the histories of all other nations, and with the most ancient predictions of their own lawgivers and prophets concerning them, would be amply sufficient to support the truths of the Christian religion, if every other record and testimony on which they stand had irrecoverably perished.
Lord-Chancellor Erskine: Speech in the Prosecution of Paine as the author of The Age of Reason, 1794.
The mysterious incarnation of our blessed Saviour Milton made the grand conclusion of Paradise Lost, the zest of his finished labours, and the ultimate hope, expectation, and glory of the world. Thus you find all that is great or wise or splendid or illustrious among created beings, all the minds gifted beyond ordinary nature, if not inspired by their universal Author for the advancement and dignity of the world, though divided by distant ages and by clashing opinions, yet joining as it were in one sublime chorus to celebrate the truths of Christianity, and laying upon its holy altars the never-fading offerings of their immortal wisdom.
Lord Chancellor Erskine: Speech on Paines Age of Reason.