Page images
PDF

A young gentleman of good family had married a woman of

the town. His relatives and acquaintance deserted him. She plunged her husband into debt, and almost ruined him by her extravagance. He mustered courage to defend an action for goods furnished to her at enormous prices. Erskine was counsel for the defendant; and aware of the wife's previous character, was obliged to make it a ground of appeal to the jury. He praised the amiable feelings of the husband, who had sought to restore his wife to the path of virtue, and inveighed against her base ingratitude, to which the plaintiff had lent himself. “For her he gave up his family, and sacrificed all his connexions.” When Bearcroft came to reply, he treated Erskine's eulogium of his client's virtue, and the demerits of his wife, as mere burlesque. “My friend reproaches his client's wife with forgetfulness of the debt of gratitude which she owes him, that for her he had given up all his connexions; but the balance of obligation will be found on her side—for, for him, she gave up all mankind.”

Erskine usually brought his arguments, says Mr. Espinasse, written at length in a little marble-covered book, from which, even after long experience in his profession, he read and cited his cases. Baldwin, a barrister of considerable standing, distinguished for avarice and jealousy of every rising junior, affected to ridicule Erskine's mode of preparing his arguments, saying on one occasion, with a sneer, that he wished Erskine would lend him his book. “It would do you no harm, Mr. Baldwin,” said lord Mansfield gravely, “to take a leaf out of that book, as you seem to want it.”

At the expense of this low practitioner Erskine indulged in one of those jeuw-de-mots to which he delighted in turning legal phraseology. Baldwin lived in the house which is now Surgeons' Hall, in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Being told that he had sold his house to the corporation of surgeons, “I suppose,” said he, “it was recommended to them from Baldwin being so well acquainted with the practice of bringing in the body.” Baldwin's business was almost wholly composed of motions of course, this of bringing in the body forming the chief.

In this forbidden ground, the region of puns, wit’s lowest story, Erskine would disport himself with more than boyish glee. He fired off a double barrel when encountering his friend Mr. Maylem at Ramsgate. The latter observed that his physician had ordered him not to bathe, “Oh then,” said Erskine, “you are ‘Malum prohibitum.” “My wife, however,” resumed the other, “does bathe.” “Oh then,” said Erskine, perfectly delighted, “she is * Malum in se.’”

When a military fever overspread the land, he was called with one voice to the command of the Law Association, composed of the Lincoln's Inn and Temple corps. They had greatly miscalculated his fitness for the command. He could not, we are assured, manoeuvre the corps through the most simple movements; and in exercising the battalion, which consisted of six companies, he gave his orders from a card prepared for him by his major, Major Reid. If Erskine ever possessed any military ardor, it was at that time nearly extinguished ; he did not enter heartily into the duties of his command, and the parade had no longer any charms for him. A friend wishing to banter him on the subject, told him he had just

come from the parade of the excise corps, then the worst in Lon

don, and that they appeared to him to be superior to his. “So they ought,” said Erskine, “why they are all Caesars (seizers).” In the same facetious spirit he suggested for the motto of his corps, “Currat lew ; ” and complaining to Bell of his penmanship, declared that his pothooks were nearly as irregular as the Lincoln's Inn volunteers coming to the “present.”

An acquaintance having mentioned a relative's illness, Erskine asked the nature of the complaint. Being told, water on the chest, he answered briskly, for the pun interested him more than the invalid, “Then she's not to be pitied ; it is lucky in these times to have any thing in one's chest.”

Professor Thibaut. This distinguished jurist, who is called by

our correspondent the greatest jurist of Germany, died recently at Heidelberg, at an advanced age.

[From the Legal Observer, for July, 1838.]

Case of Circumstantial Evidence. In the year 1723, a young man who was serving his apprenticeship in London to a master sailmaker, got leave to visit his mother, to spend the Christmas holidays. She lived a few miles beyond Deal, in Kent. He walked the journey, and on his arrival at Deal, in the evening, being much fatigued, and also troubled with a bowel complaint, he applied to the landlady of a public house, who was acquainted with his mother, for a night's lodging. Her house was full, and every bed occupied ; but she told him, that if he would sleep with her uncle, who had lately come ashore, and was boatswain of an Indiaman, he should be welcome. He was glad to accept the offer, and after spending the evening with his new comrade, they retired to rest. In the middle of the night he was attacked with his complaint, and wakening his bedfellow, he asked him the way to the garden. The boatswain told him to go through the kitchen; but as he would find it difficult to open the door into the yard, the latch being out of order, he desired him to take a knife out of his pocket, with which he could raise the latch. The young man did as he was directed, and after remaining near half an hour in the yard, he returned to his bed, but was much surprised to find his companion had risen and gone. Being impatient to visit his mother and friends, he also arose before day, and pursued his journey, and arrived home at noon.

The landlady, who had been told of his intention to depart early, was not surprised ; but not seeing her uncle in the morning, she went to call him. She was dreadfully shocked to find the bed stained with blood, and every inquiry after her uncle was in vain. The alarm now became general, and on further examination, marks of blood were traced from the bed-room into the street, and at intervals down to the edge of the pier-head. Rumor was immediately busy, and suspicion fell of course on the young man who slept with him, that he had committed the murder, and thrown the body over the pier into the sea. A warrant was issued against him, and he was taken that evening at his mother's house.

WOL. XXIII.-NO. XLVI. 32

[ocr errors]

On his being examined and searched, marks of blood were discovered on his shirt and trowsers, and in his pocket were a knife and a remarkable silver coin, both of which the landlady swore positively were her uncle's property, and that she saw them in his possession on the evening he retired to rest with the young man. On these strong circumstances the unfortunate youth was found guilty. He related all the above circumstances in his defence ; but as he could not account for the marks of blood on his person, unless that he got them when he returned to the bed, nor for the silver coin being in his possession, his story was not credited. The certainty of the boatswain's disappearance, and the blood at the pier traced from his bedroom, were two evident signs of his being murdered ; and even the judge was so convinced of his guilt, that he ordered the execution to take place in three days. At the fatal tree the youth declared his innocence, and persisted in it with such affecting asseverations, that many pitied him, though none doubted the justness of his sentence, The executioners of those days were not so expert at their trade as modern ones, nor were drops and platforms invented. The young man was very tall; his feet sometimes touched the ground, and some of his friends who surrounded the gallows contrived to give the body some support as it was suspended. After being cut down, those friends bore it speedily away in a coffin, and in the course of a few hours animation was restored, and the innocent saved. When he was able to move, his friends insisted on his quitting the country and never returning, He accordingly travelled by night to Portsmouth, where he entered on board a man-of-war, on the point of sailing for a distant part of the world ; and as he changed his name, and disguised his person, his melancholy story never was discovered. After a few years of service, during which his exemplary conduct was the cause of his promotion through the lower grades, he was at last made a master's mate, and his ship being paid off in the West Indies, he, with a few more of the crew, were transferred to another man-of-war, which had just arrived short of hands from a different station. What were his feelings of astonishment and then of delight and ecstacy, when almost the first person he saw on board his new ship was the identical boatswain for whose murder he had been tried, condemned, and executed, five years before | Nor was the surprise of the old boatswain much less when he heard the story. An explanation of all the mysterious circumstances then took place. It appeared the boatswain had been bled for a pain in his side by the barber, unknown to his niece, on the day of the young man's arrival at Deal; that when the young man wakened him, and retired to the yard, he found the bandage had come off his arm during the night, and that the blood was flowing afresh. Being alarmed, he rose to go to the barber, who lived across the street, but a press-gang laid hold of him just as he left the public house. They hurried him to the pier, where their boat was waiting: a few minutes brought them on board a frigate, then under weigh for the East Indies, and he omitted ever writing home to account for his sudden disappearance. Thus were the chief circumstances explained by the two friends, thus strangely met. The silver coin being found in the possession of the young man, could only be explained by the conjecture, that when the boatswain gave him the knife in the dark, it is probable that as the coin was in the same pocket, it stuck between the blades of the knife, and in this manner became the strongest proof against him.

Fitness of Lawyers for Legislation. It is said that there was an Amsterdam merchant, who had dealt largely in corn all his life, who had never seen a field of wheat growing ; this man had doubtless acquired, by experience, an accurate judgment of the qualities of each description of corn,-of the best methods of storing it, of the arts of buying and selling it at proper times, &c.; but he would have been greatly at a loss in its cultivation; though he had been, in a certain way, long conversant about corn. Nearly similar is the experience of a practised lawyer, (supposing him to be nothing more,) in a case of legislation ; because he has been long conversant about law, the unreflecting attribute great weight to his judgment; whereas his constant habits of fixing his

« PreviousContinue »