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Erskine Thomas

Erskine, Thomas, Lord (1750-1823), brother to the Hon. Henry Erskine mentioned above, was a renowned advocate, and less renowned Lord Chancellor. After an education at the Edinburgh High School and St. Andrew's University, he served as a midshipman in the navy for four years, and then in the army for six years. In 1777 he entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, and at Lincoln's Inn, and in 1778 he was called to the bar, where he achieved such success as to justify his taking silk in 1783. His forensic skill at the trial of Admiral Keppel caused the electors of Portsmouth to return him to Parliament, and to keep him there till he became a peer. He was a great advocate of the rights of juries, and his attitude in the libel trial of the Dean of St. Asaph brought him into collision with Mr. Justice Buller, who had been his trainer in special pleading. His defence of Mr. Stockdale was a great oratorical exhibition. For defending Thomas Paine, in 1792, he lost his position as Attorney-General to the Prince of Wales, but in 1802 he was restored to the post, and in 1806 Lord Grenville made him Lord Chancellor, and he became a peer. This was on the whole a misfortune for him, since the administration was short-lived, and it was against etiquette for him to return to the bar. Moreover, his powers as an advocate were not equalled by his powers as a judge. Among his literary works were a pamphlet upon the war with France, the editing of some State trials, a preface to Fox's speeches, and a political romance. Many of his speeches at the bar have been published, notably, in Chauncey Goodrich's collection of British Eloquence, as well as separately.