LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch 19: Peter Pindar

Vol. I. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Introductory
Ch. 2: Childhood
Ch. 3: Boyhood
Ch. 4: London
Ch. 5: Companions
Ch. 6: The Cypher
Ch. 7: Edinburgh
Ch. 8: Edinburgh
Ch. 9: Excursion
Ch. 10: Naval Services
Ch. 11: Periodical Press
Ch. 12: Periodical Press
Ch. 13: Past Times
Ch. 14: Past Times
Ch. 15: Literary
Ch. 16: War & Jubilees
Ch. 17: The Criminal
Ch. 18: Mr. Perceval
Ch. 19: Poets
Ch. 20: The Sun
Ch. 21: Sun Anecdotes
Ch. 22: Paris in 1814
Ch. 23: Paris in 1814
Ch. 24: Byron
Vol. I. Appendices
Scott Anecdote
Burns Anecdote
Life of Thomson
John Stuart Jerdan
Scottish Lawyers
Sleepless Woman
Canning Anecdote
Southey in The Sun
Hood’s Lamia
Murder of Perceval
Vol. II. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Literary
Ch. 2: Mr. Canning
Ch. 3: The Sun
Ch. 4: Amusements
Ch. 5: Misfortune
Ch. 6: Shreds & Patches
Ch. 7: A Character
Ch. 8: Varieties
Ch. 9: Ingratitude
Ch. 10: Robert Burns
Ch. 11: Canning
Ch. 12: Litigation
Ch. 13: The Sun
Ch. 14: Literary Gazette
Ch. 15: Literary Gazette
Ch. 16: John Trotter
Ch. 17: Contributors
Ch. 18: Poets
‣ Ch 19: Peter Pindar
Ch 20: Lord Munster
Ch 21: My Writings
Vol. II. Appendices
The Satirist.
Authors and Artists.
The Treasury
Morning Chronicle
Chevalier Taylor
Foreign Journals
Vol. III. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Literary Pursuits
Ch. 2: Literary Labour
Ch. 3: Poetry
Ch. 4: Coleridge
Ch 5: Criticisms
Ch. 6: Wm Gifford
Ch. 7: W. H. Pyne
Ch. 8: Bernard Barton
Ch. 9: Insanity
Ch. 10: The R.S.L.
Ch. 11: The R.S.L.
Ch. 12: L.E.L.
Ch. 13: L.E.L.
Ch. 14: The Past
Ch. 15: Literati
Ch. 16: A. Conway
Ch. 17: Wellesleys
Ch. 18: Literary Gazette
Ch. 19: James Perry
Ch. 20: Personal Affairs
Vol. III. Appendices
Literary Poverty
Ismael Fitzadam
Mr. Tompkisson
Mrs. Hemans
A New Review
Debrett’s Peerage
Procter’s Poems
Poems by Others
Poems by Jerdan
Vol. IV. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Critical Glances
Ch. 2: Personal Notes
Ch. 3: Fresh Start
Ch. 4: Thomas Hunt
Ch. 5: On Life
Ch. 6: Periodical Press
Ch. 7: Quarterly Review
Ch. 8: My Own Life
Ch. 9: Mr. Canning
Ch. 10: Anecdotes
Ch. 11: Bulwer-Lytton
Ch. 12: G. P. R. James
Ch. 13: Finance
Ch. 14: Private Life
Ch. 15: Learned Societies
Ch. 16: British Association
Ch. 17: Literary Characters
Ch. 18: Literary List
Ch. 19: Club Law
Ch. 20: Conclusion
Vol. IV. Appendix
Gerald Griffin
W. H. Ainsworth
James Weddell
The Last Bottle
N. T. Carrington
The Literary Fund
Letter from L.E.L.
Geographical Society
Baby, a Memoir
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He could distinguish and divide
A hair ’twixt south and south-west side;
On either which he would dispute,
Confute, change hands, and still confute.
He’d undertake to prove, by force
Of argument, a Man no Horse.
He’d prove a Buzzard is no fowl,
And that a Lord may be an Owl;
A Calf an Alderman—a Goose a Justice,
And Rooks Committee-men and Trustees.
All this, by syllogism, true
In mood and figure, he would do!!

As my remarks on Peter Pindar, and the anecdote respecting his pension, which I related on the high and I should say unquestionable authority of the late Lord Farnborough, in my first volume, have excited some controversy, a few pages devoted to the clearing up of that affair, and establishing the character which I am so anxious my work should have for accuracy, will not be out of place here. A writer in the “Athenæum” having pertly impeached the veracity of the account, though the attack was hardly worth notice, I addressed the editor of that journal, who immediately inserted my letter, as follows:—


“Under this head, a correspondent in your last number has commented on the anecdote respecting Peter Pindar in my first volume of literary memoirs. Will you permit me to offer a few words in reply? I did not say, as ‘Young Mortality’ has put it into my mouth, that ‘Peter Pindar was a great rascal:’—nor did I allege that ‘he taught the public to believe that George the Good was a simpleton or a fool, only because the Government refused to avail themselves of his services, or, in other words, to give him a bribe.’ These words are his,—not mine. I merely related what I heard from a most honourable and distinguished man, whose letter on the subject to me I quoted, and which stated that Peter’s representative had offered support to the Government for a consideration, and that Peter claimed that consideration for being silent and desisting from his caricatures of the King. For aught else, I have nothing to state. Your correspondent’s suppositions and reasoning may safely be left to themselves; and his avoidance of any answer to the notorious, and not more creditable, ruse which Peter played upon the publishers,—and which I related on the authority of living parties,—may, I presume, settle this controversy. Will you permit me only to add, that I have undertaken my Autobiography in anticipation of a posthumous date, principally in order that anything which I state that is doubtful might be questioned, and anything erroneous contradicted whilst yet there are witnesses of the highest character in being who can vouch for my statements, however startling some of them may appear! Truth as regards myself and others is my sole object.

“I am, &c,

A much more respectable doubter of my statements, however, appeared in the same paper; and my old friend and fellow labourer in literature, Mr. Cyrus Redding (one of the earliest contributors to the “Literary Gazette” in prose and verse), attached his signature to the annexed letter:—

“St. John’s Wood, May 17.

“In your number of the 8th instant some anecdotes respecting Peter Pindar (Dr. Wolcot) are extracted from the Autobiography of Mr. Jerdan. A previous knowledge of the Doctor by my family induced me, when I came a youth to London, to visit him. From the close of 1805, down to the time of his death in 1819, I spent an evening weekly when I was in London at his house. I remember his sisters also, who were alive in 1813. Mr. Jerdan is not correct in his statements. The facts of his alleged trick on the publishers are these:—Wolcot’s works having a prodigious sale, Walker the bookseller was deputed by some of the trade to offer the Doctor a sum of money, or an annuity, for the copyright of them all. The Doctor chose the annuity of 250l. He had suffered all his life from asthma, but less in his latter years than before. A fit was on him on the day when Walker called about the business,—and the bibliopolist went away, and told (I think) his wife, that the Doctor could not live long, and it might soon be too late to conclude the bargain. The Doctor heard of this, and when Walker came with the draft of the document, he coughed ‘double time,’ on purpose to play off the joke upon him,—and the bookseller naturally hurried through the business. The Doctor used to repeat the anecdote as a good joke against the booksellers. He was not in a ‘dying condition.’ He never ‘wiped the chalk off his face,’ which, with his mahogany complexion, chalk would hardly have whitened,—
nor did he ‘dance out of the room’—neither had he ‘one foot in the grave.’ He used, after he was eighty years of age, to say in jest that he had got the best of the bargain with the bibliopolists,—living so many years more than they reckoned on,—and always concluded by speaking of his cough. He was a man far above such a trick as chalking his face to entrap those with whom he dealt. In money affairs he was scrupulous. He was one of the most open, candid men that ever lived,—fond of a joke, and making one sometimes out of little.—The anecdote of the pension, as told by Mr. Jerdan, is equally erroneous. I had the previous story from his own lips. Wolcot came from Cornwall to London about 1782. He began to write soon afterwards,—and the King’s first fit of illness occurred in 1789, and lasted but a short time. The second attack was in 1811. Wolcot wrote little or nothing worth mentioning after the latter year. The ‘laudable anxiety of Ministers’ to protect the King by pensioning Peter Pindar thus falls to the ground,—though it is true the statement is very generally made. The truth is,—Peter did not offer his assistance to the Government. Mr. Jerdan contradicts himself. If the pension was offered to prevent annoyance to the King, it could hardly have been granted to Peter on his own solicitation! All the world knows that
Charles II. bade a writer, legally attached for a lampoon, to abuse him, and then the ministers would not trouble themselves about his diatribes. Peter was more bitter against the ministry than against the King. He told too many truths of them. He disliked Pitt,—whom he deemed a renegade from his father’s principles, and a tacit libeller of his memory. The first Pitt was the Doctor’s hero,—and his first verses were written to that Mr. Pitt, ‘On his recovery from a fit of the gout.’ These verses were published in ‘Martin’s Magazine
about 1756, and are dated from Fowey in Cornwall. His praises of Chatham were unbounded:—his dislike of the son was proportional. Peter was offered a pension more than once, but he could not be a dependant and write for the Government. The last time the offer was made he was depressed in mind and in circumstances. He had thought of retiring into Cornwall, and giving up his pen. This was not known to the Treasury,—but it so happened that an offer of a pension was renewed at that very time. Peter was not to write for the Government, and he stipulated that he would not write against it.
Mr. Yorke was the go-between, if I recollect rightly. Peter finally agreed to write no more articles on political personages—in fact, to keep silent about the Ministry. A pension of 300l. per annum was to be his. He had received the first quarter’s allowance but a few days, when, in the temper of those times, a messenger from the Treasury called and hoped, now the Doctor saw the Ministry were in earnest, he would use his pen on their side. ‘You know the stipulation was to be my silence,’ said the Doctor indignantly, ‘I’ll be d—d if I will write for you; I won’t be a prostitute,—go and tell this to your Ministers.’ It happened that a sum of money about which the Doctor had been depressed in mind from his hopelessness of obtaining it, was paid over to him. He at once enclosed back the amount which he had received from the Treasury. ‘Peter can live without a pension’ was the result. So began and ended the pension affair,—as related by himself.—I will trespass upon your space by an anecdote which has not been told, out of many that I know of this remarkable man. The Prince of Wales always had slips of the Doctor’s works from the printer, while they were in the press. When he became Prince Regent, a messenger was sent to the Doctor to know what the Prince
was indebted to him for the proof slips, None had been sent for years, because the Doctor had not written anything worth sending. ‘I thought it a sufficient honour that the Prince read my works in that way. I never expected to be insulted by such a demand so long afterwards,’ said Wolcot. ‘My orders are peremptory, Doctor.’ replied the messenger.—‘I hare nothing to do with my writings now, nor with money transactions relating to them. You must go to Walker the bookseller.’ The messenger went, the Doctor instructing Walker to make out a regular tradesman’s bill for the Prince Regent, to the farthing, and give a regular receipt for the sum when paid. Some little time afterwards the messenger called on the Doctor with a fifty-pound note, the account being forty odd pounds and some shillings,—‘The change was of no consequence.’ The Doctor despatched the messenger to Walker again—saying he would not have the Prince’s money. It was a trading affair on both sides, and he must go to the traders. ‘Was not this very pretty?’ said Wolcot; ‘the Prince had my squibs about his father to read openly at his own table, and then fearing that I may blab the fact, now he is become Viceroy, he thinks if he pays me for the rags all will be right.’
Weltje, of the Prince’s household, supplied the Doctor with materials for many of his squibs. The tale of the shaving of the royal cooks originated in a fact. The order was given, but withdrawn. It was founded on an accident of a trivial character,—which Wolcot altered and made the subject of one of the richest comic poems in any language, exalting the insect hero—
“‘To draw of deep astronomers the ken,
The Georgium Sidus of the sons of men.’

“I am, &c,

Mr. Redding’s version of the trick played off upon the publishers, by which Wolcot got and enjoyed for many years an annuity of 250l., differs only in a few unimportant details of colouring from mine. The Doctor thought it a good joke, and so it was for him; but the bibliopolists thought it a swindle; and whether he only coughed double time, or chalked his face, and pretended by other symptoms to be in a dying state (I didn’t say that he was really so, but the reverse), is of no consequence whatever to the truth of the allegation.

With regard to the pension, the story of which Mr. Redding had “from his own lips,” I must say that I place greater confidence in the statement of Lord Farnborough, who had no private or personal interest in the business, than I repose in the version of the Coughing Doctor.

With regard to the circumstantial evidence about the King—that as Pindar came to town in 1782, and his Majesty’s first illness occurred in 1809, and the second in 1811, after which he wrote little or nothing worth mentioning, his attacks could not be desired to be silenced in order to prevent annoyance to the King and royal family—whether Peter was more bitter against the Ministry than against the King matters little, seeing that he was bitter enough against the latter to lampoon and ridicule him in every possible way, and even to dedicate a whole volume, viz., the mock-heroic poem of the “Lousiad,” in four cantos, to that especial object. His hostility to the sovereign was imputed, I know not how truly, to some slight he fancied had been offered to his protégé Opie, with whom he soon after fiercely quarrelled and violently abused, which the artist returned by caricaturing him as a parsimonious bear, saving fuel by putting lumps of dried Thames mud upon his fire. I do not therefore see any inconsistency in the
anecdote that Ministers sought to protect the King from annoyance by pensioning Peter; though I will, in justice, allow that, subsequently to the melancholy circumstance of 1788-9, I am not aware of his having published anything injurious to the august sufferer under that calamity.

In the poem entitled “Peter’s Pension, a Solemn Epistle to a Sublime Personage,” it is somewhat curious that, between jest and earnest, he coquettes with the subject, and intimates his willingness to be pensioned. Whether the Treasury spoke upon this hint, I cannot tell, but I think it very likely that it did: and in this sense, and by this method, the poet absolutely did offer himself to be treated with by the government, which received the inuendo exactly in the manner it was meant—being more than met the ear.

The story of Mr. Yorke coming with the quarterly pension then due is so utterly incredible that I am surprised a gentleman of Mr. Redding’s experience could repeat it. I believe that he did receive and keep two quarters’ salary, and that it was the third quarter he rejected from Lord Farnborough (then Mr. Long), when, as he alleged, he was asked to lend his active co-operation to Ministers. At least he told the anecdote in this way to others, though he got up a more striking version for Mr. Redding.

But even according to his defender, although he said he would be d—d rather than be a prostitute, I cannot so clearly perceive the vast difference between selling your silence (“muzzling his muse” as he expressed it) and writing for hire. The man who would consent to the one could hardly be so indignant at being asked for his sweet voice for the other. On the whole, I trust I have sustained the accuracy of my story; and when I remember the honourable and immaculate character of the amiable and
accomplished statesman from whom I received my information, I cannot hesitate a moment in giving it my entire belief. The quarrel between
Dr. Wolcot and Mr. William Gifford, which has also been brought upon the tapis, together with the terrible castigation inflicted upon the former by a satirist of tenfold greater powers, (in the eighth edition of the “Baviad and Mæviad,”) made much noise at the time. Wolcot, in a state of excitement helped on by liquor, mistook Mr. William for Mr. John Gifford (noticed in a preceding chapter), who had criticised him severely in the “Anti-Jacobin Review” (William was editor of the witty “Anti-Jacobin” newspaper), and assaulted him furiously in Mr. Wright’s shop. The party assailed, however, snatched the cane out of the assailant’s hands and belaboured him with it till he was pushed out of doors; a punishment not a hundredth part so painful and ill to endure as was the withering “Life of Peter Pindar,” which endorsed the castigation:—

But what is he, that, with a Mohawk’s air,
“Cries Havoc, and lets slip the dogs of war?”
A bloated mass, a gross, blood-battered clod,—
A foe to man, a renegade to God;
From noxious childhood, to pernicious age,
Separate to infamy in every stage.
Cornwall remembers yet his first employ,
And, shuddering, tells with what infernal joy
His little tongue in blasphemies was loosed,
His little hands in deeds of horror used;
While mangled insects strewed his cradle o’er,
And limbs of birds distained his bib with gore.
Anon, on stronger animals he flew,
For with his growth his savage passions grew;
And oft, what time his violence fail’d to kill,
He mix’d the insidious dose with wicked skill;
Saw, with wild joy, in pangs till then untried,
Cats—dogs—expire, and cursed them as they died.*

* Wolcot was brought up as a surgeon.

With riper years a different scene began,
And his hate turn’d from animals to man:
Then, letters—libels—flew on secret wings,
And wide around infixed their venom’d stings.
All fear’d, where none could ward the coming blow,
And each man eyed his neighbour as his foe;
Till, dragg’d to-day, the lurking caitiff stood—
The accursed cause of many a fatal feud—
And begg’d for mercy in so sad a strain,
So wept, so trembled, that the injured train—
Who, crawling at their feet, a miscreant saw,
Too mean for punishment, too poor for law—
O’erlook’d (’twas all they could) his numerous crimes,
And shipp’d him off “to ape and monkey climes.”*
There, while the negroes viewed, with strong disgust,
This prodigy of drunkenness and lust
Explore the darkest cells, the dirtiest styes,
And roll in filth at which their gorge would rise,
He play’d one master-trick to crown the whole,
And took, oh Heavens, the sacerdotal stole!
How shook the altar when he first drew near,
Hot from debauch, and with a shameless leer,
Pour’d stammering forth the yet unhallow’d prayers,
Mix’d with convulsive sobs and noisome airs!
Then rose the people, passive now no more,
And from his limbs the sacred vestments tore;
Dragged him with groans, shouts, hisses, to the main,
And sent him to annoy these realms again.†
False fugitive! back to thy vomit flee!
Troll the lascivious song, the fulsome glee;
Truck praise for lust, hunt infant genius down,
Strip modest merit of its last half-crown;
Blow from thy mildewed lips, on Virtue blow,
And blight the goodness thou canst never know.
Lo, here the wrinkled profligate! who stands
On nature’s verge, and, from his lep’rous hands,
Shakes tainted verse; who bids us, with the price
Of ranc’rous falsehoods, pander to his vice.
Give him to live the future as the past,
And in pollution wallow to the last!

* Went to Jamaica as a physician, when about thirty years of age, but finding the emoluments less than he expected, entered into holy orders, and for some time held a curacy in the island.

† I am afraid that his conversation and habits afforded the writer too much ground for this appalling portraiture. He was wont to swear


I have mentioned the kindly interest taken by Lord Buchan at my outset with the “Gazette,” and his introduction of it, and its editor, to the notice of M. Millin and other French literati and savans. His Lordship was a remarkable character, and, like all the noble race of Erskine whom I have known, had a dash of that peculiar eccentricity about him which is not only allied to genius, but to the blood of certain Scottish families, from generation to generation. In my boyhood I had been a spectator of an anniversary meeting of the gentry around, founded by his Lordship to do honour to the memory of the Poet of the Seasons. It was held at Ednam, his birth-place, and in a small cottage on the Eden, much frequented by anglers, who, like myself, delighted in the sylvan beauties and admirable trout of that pastoral stream, which, from childhood to manhood, was my favourite haunt. I had my bluff and hearty uncle there too, and a few lively female cousins, who had often as young and fair and lively friends with them. I presume that they added to the attractions of the water, and the scenery, and the fish; and I beg it to be remarked, that such combinations are very seductive to youthful fishers. And then they were so good-natured: I have shot to them alone, during half a hot September day, and never was better pleased with any pointers, however well broken-in (which they were not) and stanch, which they were, though not particularly steady. By the by, I have been writing a great deal about poets in my later pages, but I am not aware that it ever occurred to any of them to paint the difference between loves in the country

coarsely, and speak most irreverently and profanely on religious subjects: as, for instance, it was told of him, in his curacy at Vere, that he would jocularly say that he offered up prayers to the Holy Trinity in the morning, and amused himself by shooting at the Holy Ghost (wood-pigeons, so called in the West Indies) in the afternoon.

and loves in town. I speak of innocent little loves, from the almost indefinable, upwards to the very wildest of hobble-de-hoyism and bread-and-butterism. In the country, it is all in harmony. You meet in a shady lane, or a leafy copse, or under a trysting tree, or at the corner of the well-hedged field, or among the new-mown hay, or by the rustic church, or in the garden, or in the meadow, or anywhere rural, and it seems all so natural, as love must be bound to spring and grow there. And the air is so sweet, and the murmur of insect-life so chastening, and the song of birds so charming, and the harmony of the grove so fascinating, and the scent of flowers so refreshing, and the low of kine so composing, and everything so blandly conspiring to fill the breast with delicious sentiment, that it was really very enjoyable—fifty years ago. For, even if
“All the young maidens were blackbirds and thrushes,
Oh, would not the young men go beating the bushes?”

But turn to the dismal town: what has love to do there? What lane would you wish to meet your sweetheart in (though there are Love Lanes, and a Little Love Lane, besides a Lad Lane, in the City)? What street, from Wapping to Cheapside? What square; Blooms-bury or Soho? Near what hospital; Bethlem or the Penitentiary? Under what tree; the one in Wood Street, or the other in St. Paul’s Churchyard “as used to be”? By what church, except St. Bride, Cripplegate, or St. Sepulchre? In what garden; the Beastly Surrey, or the Brutal Zoological? In what field, Spital or Moor? Among what hay; Hay Hill or the Haymarket? At what corner; Hyde Park or Amen? Alas! it is all the same; the pastoral country is for loves, the city for such loves as business affords leisure for, and those but queer? Then, as for the congenial sounds, you have insect life enough to
murmur at; for the songs of birds, the songs of ballad-singers; for the harmony of groves, the clangour of brass bands; for the scent of flowers, the smell of drains; for the low of kine, the groans of cattle Smithfield bound—the whole forming such a conspiracy of outrageous noise, that one must have a mind similar to the stomach of an ostrich, and capable of digesting everything, before an idea of love can enter into the antagonistically-crowded precincts. But what a way this love episode has been carrying us from Ednam,
Thomson, Lord Buchan, the angler’s pet resort, and the anniversary. That cottage was kept by the Widow Spinks. It had, at any rate, two apartments, “a but and a ben” (contractions, as I take it, à la “Diversions of Purley,” for a be out and a be in, viz., an outer and inner room); and these the Widow Spinks kept so perfectly clean, that you might have eaten your dinner off the floor, if it had not been sanded, and drank your tipple out of the pans and kettles, if there had not been bickers and horns. There was not a speck of dust to be discovered under the roof, even by an exciseman, if he had gone on a special mission to ascertain if there should be any whiskey on the premises, which Mistress Spinks had no license to retail, being only eligible for beer from the adjacent brewery; and therefore could, with infinite consternation, oblige a wet and well-approved piscator, now and then (when he needed it), with a glass from her own little bottle for her own little use.

It was here that the Earl of Buchan set up his tent for the Thomson anniversaries; and they were really most interesting; they made me, a young boy, who had nothing more to do than to hear about them, and see my father and others going to them, a student of the poet, and his cordial admirer through life, even to throw (as in my vol. i. Appendix) some light upon his memory.


As having viewed most things with literary tastes, appetites, and habits, I would pause here for a momentary commonplace, which cannot, however, be too often urged upon the consideration of teachers and parents. The effect upon children and youth, observant of every word, look, and motion of those to whom they look up from affection or custom, is the grand rule and principle to be thought of in education. “Without attention to this, all precepts and preachings and punishments are of small avail; and the easy overleaping of trouble, by bribing with rewards for conduct which ought to be good without, or hypocrisy taught to simulate deserving, is of all subterfuges the worst. The impressions stamped upon juvenile years are immortal; a mere trifle makes a future gentleman or a blackguard, an intellectual being or an ignorant ruffian, an honour or a pest to society and human nature! Apparently trifling incidents give a colour to a life; we cannot be fully and prophetically aware of the consequences, nor would they always follow if we were; but I have witnessed such dominant and lasting results flow from such matters as the Thomson anniversary, a school examination, or a mere conversation at a father’s table, that I would just like to leave my idea on the world, that—except one thing, a fine moral and religious up-bringing—there is nothing on this earth which merits more sedulous study than the force of actual example upon the future direction of the youthful mind and conduct. It is this which makes the mother’s first teaching so imperishable.

But Lord Buchan: he had his oddities; and these, I am afraid, put a premature end to the Thomson anniversaries at my darling Widow Spinks’s; very much “seconded” as they were by the general apathy of the surrounding squirearchy and wealthy farmers, whose seasons agricultural
had little sympathy with his “
Seasons” poetical. If the generality in the present day have not really got more of interest in such matters, at least they pretend to it more, and that serves on many occasions to keep the taper lighted, which was allowed to go into snuff in this instance, which so much awakened my imagination.

Lord Buchan was scholarly, gentlemanly, and estimable; hut his whimsicalities, as all such things are ill understood and ill-balanced by the commonalty around, procured him the erroneous repute of being systematically what he only was erratically. Thus, for a season, his lordship’s neighbour, Haig of Bemerside (see preceding volume), received from his spacious dove-cot pie-pigeons enow for weeks together, to spare the plentiful Bemerside larder from the neck-wringing of some fowls, if not the murder of muttons. Haig was rather distressed at this profusion, but was relieved at Christmas, when a regular poulterer’s bill was sent in—“— Haig, Esq., to the Earl of Buchan. Thirty dozen of pigeons, at 2s. 6d. per dozen, sum total 3l. 15s.,” which Haig gladly paid; but it made a story, and most probably the whole arose from some member of the Bemerside family having said to an upper servant of Lord Buchan’s, “I wish we could get some of your superabundant pigeons at the price we should pay (if we could get them) in Edinburgh or Kelso.” Of such materials are characters often made out, without a knowledge of all facts, and without the powers of discrimination. Princes, ministers, private individuals, and all—all are liable to the same sort of misinterpretation. I had a warm regard and cause to be grateful to Lord Buchan, for he was one of my youthful encouragers, and that was an honour then.

With Henry Erskine, his brother in Edinburgh, it never
was my good fortune to meet, though I knew one or more of his sons (?). His brilliant wit furnished glorious and congenial anecdotes to the society of the Scottish metropolis, such as it then was; and I could, if such things were now allowable in our more refined, and in language more decorous, era, repeat some of his admirable sallies. It may be some comfort to the free and easy jesters of years to come, that they will have no need to invoke perdition on their antecedents for forestalling them, as change of manners has left the whole territory, as far as printing is concerned, as if it had never been occupied. Henry Erskine and
Lady Wallace, and all the racy jests of their gay pastime, are as if they had never been, sic transit facetiæ mundi! Quaint turns often baffle the skill of the lawyer. On a trial for the murder of an excise officer, an old rogue of a town carrier was giving evidence in favour of the smugglers where the affray ended so fatally. He swore that “a wee bit of a pistol was held up merely to frighten the officer,” when Erskine produced a huge horse pistol, to overwhelm the witness, and triumphantly asked him if that was the sort of engine merely to frighten people. “I dinna ken,” was the answer; “some folks, like you, are easily frightened.” The laugh gave the smugglers a chance, and the Border jury, who had no horror of smuggling, gave them the benefit of it.

Thomas, Lord Chancellor Erskine, was decidedly one of the family. His poem in favour of the crows (see a preceding page), was a conclusive proof of it. At his retirement, Buchan Hill, on the road to Brighton, where he bought an estate, the chief produce of which was birch to make brooms, (and a large manufactory thereof was established on the property), the natural history question respecting the livelihood of rooks arose, on a farmer’s
complaint, and his lordship investigated the subject with his accustomed legal acumen and curiosity. The Chancellor decided in favour of the rooks and rookery, and delivered his judgment in verse, for private circulation. On a view of the case, he declares—
“Instant this solemn oath I took:
No hand shall rise against a Rook.”

The reasoning by which this judgment is supported I need not quote, having given my readers a good dose of law already; and especially as I am not quite convinced that all the Chancellor’s argument would be backed by Yarrell or Waterhouse. A solitary, honest, and repentant wireworm, the last of millions, left sole monarch of all he surveyed, in consequence of the extirpation of his nation by the rooks, is the most pointed evidence in favour of rookeries, and, as wireworms seldom talk, its moralising for the benefit of Lord Erskine’s argument is really instructive. “Farewell!” the wireworm exclaims to his lordship—
“Farewell! for I have lived a day,
And from this world must haste away.”

(His lordship’s famed wireworms were ephemeral!?)

“Enjoy your longer, higher, life,
Set free, at last, from hourly strife.
Rush not into the toils again,
Nor wealth nor honours to attain.
Here happier prospects you may see;
Your guardian spirit speaks through me.

(Bravo, Wireworm!)

“’Tis not to us was reason given,

(A dangerous confession, when advising)

“Nor speech, by all-disposing Heaven.
Those ampler powers, and form divine,
Image of God, are only thine.

(Accomplished flatterer! Wiry must have heard of his lordship’s humble confession—“I know I am a little lower than an angel.”)

“Yon radiant angel, still in view,
Was once a mortal man, like you.’”

And so wire worm, interpleader, settled the plea in Farmer versus Rook.

Of Lord Erskine’s eloquence when at the bar there were frequent celebrated displays, and of his sparkling wit never-ending examples. The bar is indeed the patent field for such exercise of talent. Many causes offer fine opportunities for impressive oratory, and occasions for humorous remark constantly present themselves. For instance, it was told of Erskine, that on Garrow’s pressing his examination of a stiff and wiry witness of a certain age, in order to prove a tender of money, he wrote on a slip of paper and passed to the examiner—
Garrow, forbear! that tough old jade
Will never ‘prove a tender made.’”

I am not sure that the following lines on a florid pleader in face and speech (Serjeant Cockell), who was flushed with the heat of a long argument, are his; but they are worthy of him, and noting here:—

“The Serjeant see, with face on fire,
And all the Court may rue it;
His purple garments come from Tyre—
His arguments go to it.”

Lord Erskine’s advice to a young lawyer, now an eminent judge, was, “read Blackstone till you are sick of it,” and then “au reste, learn law at the expense of my clients;” i.e. do as I have done in learning law at the expense of your
clients! His Lordship never could be made to believe in the excellence of
Scarlett (afterwards Lord Abinger), though he could not deny his business. Lord Erskine left the bar in 1806, and Scarlett was made K.C. in 1816, and instantly became the greatest leader of Common Law. About a year after, Erskine asked a friend of mine, who was at the head? and being answered “Scarlett” replied, “Oh, I know Scarlett very well, it can’t be.” Their genius and excellence were of such diametrically opposite kinds; that the one could not estimate the other: and we ought to bear such things in mind when we listen to the opinions even of the most gifted men, when speaking of others differently constituted and yet as gifted as themselves.