Erskine, Thomas Alexander (DNB00)

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ERSKINE, THOMAS ALEXANDER, sixth Earl of Kellie (1732–1781), was born 1 Sept. 1732, and succeeded his father, the fifth earl, in 1756. He devoted himself to music, and, going to Germany, studied at Mannheim under the elder Stamitz, with the result that he became a most accomplished player on the violin and a talented composer. Dr. Burney said that he was possessed of more musical science than any dilettante with whom he was ever acquainted (General Hist. of Music, iv. 677), and he composed with extraordinary rapidity (Robertson, Enquiry into the Fine Arts, pp. 437–8, where Lord Kellie's music is described as characterised by ‘loudness, rapidity, and enthusiasm’). ‘The musical earl’ was for many years the director of the concerts of the St. Cecilia Society at Edinburgh. He died at Brussels unmarried on 9 Oct. 1781.

Lord Kellie's coarse joviality made him one of the best-known men of his time. Foote implied that his rubicund countenance would ripen cucumbers; Dr. Johnson is supposed to have alluded to him in his censure of a certain Scotch lord celebrated for hard drinking (Boswell, ed. Croker, p. 551); and Henry Erskine [q. v.], the lord advocate, made his cousin's habits the subject of numberless jokes and parodies (Fergusson, Life of Henry Erskine, pp. 140–6, and a note by the same in Notes and Queries, 6th ser. ix. 424). He was compelled to sell in 1769 all his estates except the mansion house of Kellie (Wood, The East Neuk of Fife, p. 213). The greater part of his musical compositions is believed to have been lost, though a collection of his charming minuets was published in 1836, with an introductory notice by C. K. Sharpe, and several of his overtures have been preserved. Lord Kellie was also something of a rhymester; but the neat little piece, ‘A Lover's Message,’ usually attributed to him, has been discovered to have been written before his birth, though he undoubtedly set it to music; and the only genuine production of his that is still in existence is a fragment or two of a lyric piece entitled ‘The Kelso Races.’

[Fergusson's Life of Henry Erskine; Sharpe's introductory notice to Lord Kellie's minuets; Douglas's Peerage (Wood), ii. 20; Musical Cat. in Brit. Mus.]

L. C. S.