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took in the defence of Hardy, Horne Tooke, and others, in 1794, charged with high treason. These trials lasted several weeks, and the ability displayed by Mr. Erskine on this memorable occasion was acknowledged and admired by men of all parties. “Though the whole force of the bar was marshalled against the prisoners, and every effort used to beat down and paralyze their undaunted defender, his spirit rose superior to every difficulty, and his consummate talents shone forth in their native lustre. His indefatigable patience, his sleepless watchfulness, his unceasing activity of body and mind, his untamable spirit, his quickness and subtility of intellect, together with an Herculean strength of constitution, counterbalanced the host to which he was opposed." In 1797, he delivered a most admirable speech-speaking more as a man than a lawyer-on the prosecution of a Mr. Williams, the printer and publisher of that foul, infidel book, “The Age of Reason," by Thomas Paine. Some passages of this speech are equal to any thing he ever delivered.
In politics, Mr. Erskine was on the liberal side, acting with Fox and others of that party. He strenuously opposed the war with France, and published a pamphlet against it, entitled “ A View of the Causes and Consequences of a War with France," which had an immense sale. On the death of Mr. Pitt, in 1806, when Lord Grenville formed a new administration, Mr. Erskine was created a peer, and elevated to the dignity of Lord High Chancellor of England. His public career may be said to have terminated with this event, and the remainder of his life was undistinguished by any great exertion. While accompanying one of his sons by sea to Edinburgh, he was seized with an infiammation of the chest, which compelled him to land at Scarborough. IIe reached Scotland by easy stages, but expired on the 17th of November, 1823, at the seat of his brother, a few miles from Edinburgh.
The eloquence of Lord Erskine was characterized not merely by the elegance of its diction and the graces of its style, but was peculiarly remarkable for its grace and earnestness. As an advocate, “he possessed the power of summoning upon the instant all the resources of his mind, and bringing them to bear upon the subject before the court with extraordinary effect. In this respect, his speeches bear a resernblance to those of Mr. Pitt, wbile they far surpass them in impassioned fervor, in brilliancy of imagination, in copiousness of imagery, and in that quality of the mind expressed by the emphatic word-genius. His dexterity was likewise unrivalled at the bar; and these qualifications, united with a courage which nothing could daunt, and a firmness which was never overcome, rendered him alınost irresistible on the defensive side of political persecution. In stemming the tide of state persecutions, this single patriot may be said to have saved his country from the horrors of a general proscription."}
PRINCIPLES OF THE LAW OF LIBEL. Gentlemen, the question you have therefore to try upon all this matter is extremely simple. It is neither more nor less than this: At a time when the charges against Mr. Hastings were, by the implied consent of the Commons, in every hand and on every tablewhen, by their managers, the lightning of eloquence was incessantly consuming him, and flashing in the eyes of the public-—when every man was with perfect impunity saying, and writing, and publishing just what he pleased of the supposed plunderer and devastator of nations—would it have been criminal in Mr. Hastings himself to remird the public that he was a native of this free land, entitled to the common protection of her justice, and that he had a defence in his turn to offer to them, the outlines of which he implored them in the mean time to receive, as an antidote to the unlimited and unpunished poison in circulation against him? This is, without color or exaggeration, the true question you are to decide. Because I assert, without the hazard of contradiction, that if Mr. Hastings himself could have stood justified or excused in your eyes for publishing this volume in his own defence, the author, if he wrote it bona fide to defend him, must stand equally excused and justified; and if the author be justified, the publisher cannot be criminal, unless you had evidence that it was published by him with a different spirit and intention from those in which it was written. The question, therefore, is correctly what I just now stated it to be-Could Mr. Hastings have been condemned to infamy for writing this book ?
Gentlemen, I tremble with indignation to be driven to put such a question in England. Shall it be endured, that a subject of this country may be impeached by the Commons for the transactions of twenty years that the accusation shall spread as wide as the region of letters--that the accused shall stand, day after day and year after year, as a spectacle before the public, which shall be kept in a perpetual state of inflammation against him; yet that he shall not, without the severest penalties, be permitted to submit any thing to the judgment of mankind in his defence? If this be law, (which it is for you to-day to decide,) such a man has no trial. That great hall, built by our fathers for English justice, is no longer a court, but an altar; and an Englishman, instead of being judged in it by God and his country, is a victim and a sacrifice.
One word more, gentlemen, and I have done. Every human tribunal ought to take care to administer justice, as we look hereafter to have justice administered to ourselves. Upon the principle on which the attorney-general prays sentence upon my client, God have mercy upon us !
Instead of standing before him in judgment with the hopes and consolations of Christians, we must call upon great volume of our lives in his hands, and regarding the general scope of them, if he discovers benevolence, charity, and good-will to man beating in the heart, where he alone can look-if he finds that our conduct, though often forced out of the path by our infirmities, has been in general well directed, his all-searching eye will assuredly never pursue us into those little corners of our lives, much less will his justice select them for punishment, without the general context of our existence, by which faults may be sometimes found to have grown out of virtues, and very many of our heaviest offences to have been grafted by human imperfection upon the best and kindest of our affections. No, gentlemen, believe me, this is not the course of divine justice, or there is no truth in the gospel of Heaven. If the general tenor of a man's conduct be such as I have represented it, he may walk through the shadow of death, with all his faults about him, with as much cheerfulness as in the common paths of life, because he knows that, instead of a stern accuser to expose before the Author of his nature those frail passages, which, like the scored matter in the book before you, checkers the volume of the brightest and best spent life, his mercy will obscure them from the
eye of his purity, and our repentance blot them out for
Speech on the Trial of Stockdale.
CHRISTIANS TIIE BRIGIITEST ORNAMENTS OF OUR RACE.
How any man can rationally vindicate the publication of such a book,' in a country where the Christian religion is the very foundation of the law of the land, I am totally at a loss to conceive, and have no wish to discuss. Ilow is a tribunal, whose whole jurisdiction is founded upon the solemn belief and practice of what is here denied as falsehood, and reprobated as impiety, to deal with such an anomalous defence ? Upon what principle is it even offered to the court, whose authority is contemned and mocked at? If the religion proposed to be called in question is not previously adopted in belief and solemuly acted upon, what authority has the court to pass any judgment at all of acquittal or condemnation? Why am I now, or upon any other occasion, to submit to your lordship’s authority? Why am I now, or at any time, to address twelve of my equals, as I am now addressing you, with reverence and submission? Under what sanction are the witnesses to give their evidence, without which there can be no trial? Under what obligations can I call upon you, the jury representing your country, to administer justice? Surely upon no other than that you are sworn to administer it under the oaths you have taken. The whole judicial fabrie, from the king's sovereign authority to the lowest office of magis
Paine's Age of Reason,
tracy, has no other foundation. The whole is built, both in form and substance, upon the same oath of every one of its ministers to do justice, as God shall help them hereufler. What God? And what hereafter? That God, undoubtedly, who has commanded kings to rule, and judges to decree with justice; who has said to witnesses, not only by the voice of nature, but in revcaled commandments, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor; and who has enforced obedience to them by the revelation of the unutterable blessings which shall attend their observance, and the awful punishments which shall await upon their transgression.
But it seems this is an age of reason, and the time and the person are at last arrived that are to dissipate the errors which have overspread the past generations of ignorance. The believers in Christianity are many, but it belongs to the few that are wise to correct their credulity. Belief is an act of reason, and superior reason may, therefore, dictate to the weak. In running the mind over the long list of sincere and devout Christians, I cannot help lamenting that Newton had not lived to this day, to have had his shallowness filled up with this new flood of light. But the subject is too awful for irony. I will speak plainly and directly. Newton was a Christian! Newton, whose mind burst forth from the fetters cast by nature upon our finite conceptions; Newton, whose science was truth, and the foundation of whose knowledge of it was philosophy; not those visionary and arrogant assumptions which too often usurp its name, but philosophy resting upon the basis of mathematics, which, like figures, cannot lie; Newton, who carried the line and rule to the utmost barriers of creation, and explored the principles by which, no doubt, all created matter is held together and exists.
But this extraordinary man, in the mighty reach of his mind, overlooked, perhaps, the errors which a minuter investigation of the created things on this earth might have taught him. What shall then be said of the great Mr. Boyle, who looked into the organic structure of all matter, even to the inanimate substances which the foot treads on? Such a man may be supposed to have been equally qualified with Mr. Paine “to look through nature up to nature's God;" yet the result of all his contemplations was the most confirmed and devout belief in all which the other holds in contempt, as despicable and drivelling superstition.
But this error might, perhaps, arise from a want of due attention from the first perceptions of sense to the last conclusions of ratiocination; putting a rein, besides, upon false opinion by practical rules for the conduct of human judgment.
But these men, it may be said, were only deep thinkers, and lived in their closets, unaccustomed to the traffic of the world and to the laws which practically regulate mankind. Gentlemen, in the place where you now sit to administer the justice of this great country, above a century ago the never-to-be-forgotten Sir Matthew Hale presided, whose faith in Christianity is an exalted commentary upon its truth and reason, and whose life was a glorious example of its fruits in man; adıninistering human justice with a wisdom and purity drawn from the pure fountain of the Christian dispensation, which has been, and will be in all ages, a subject of the highest reverence and admiration.
But it is said by Mr. Paine that the Christian fable is but the tale of the more ancient superstitions of the world, and may be easily detected by a proper understanding of the mythologies of the heathens. Did Milton understand those mythologies? Was he less versed than Mr. Paine in the superstitions of the world ? No;they were the subject of his immortal song; and, though shut out from all recurrence to them, he poured them forth from the stores of a memory rich with all that man ever knew, and laid them in their order as the illustration of that real and exalted faith, the unquestionable source of that fervid genius which has cast a sort of shade upon all the other works of man
“He pass'd the flaming bounds of place and tiine :
Closed his eyes in endless night.” But it was the light of the body only that was extinguished : “The celestial light shone inward, and enabled him to justify the ways of God to man. The result of his thinking was, nevertheless, not the same as Mr. Paine's. The mysterious incarnation of our blessed Saviour, which the Age of Reason" blasphemes in words so wholly unfit for the mouth of a Christian, or for the ear of a court of justice, that I dare not and will not give them utterance, Milton made the grand conclusion of PARADISE Lost, the rest of his finished labors, 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 chorns to celebrate the truths of Christianity, and laying upon its holy altars the never-fading offerings of their immortal wisdom.