Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/203

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Erskine
Erskine
191

den as 'a friend rendered doubly dear to me, as the only companion of my youthful studies and cares, whom I have met, or can ever hope to meet, in this land of exile.' Other associates of his at this time were Thomas Brown (1778-1820) [q. v] the metaphysician, and the poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) [q.v.] He was also a friend and fellow-student of Francis Horner [q. v.]

Erskine's father had expressed a wish that he should enter the church, but the family trustees made him a lawyer's apprentice. He served for seven years (1792-9) with James Dundas, writer to the signet, but the position was not congenial to him, and he left Edinburgh in the end of 1799 to become factor to Mr. Hay of Drummetzie at Dunse, and to set up as a country writer. While in Edinburgh he published a poem called 'An Epistle from Lady Grange to Edward D .' It took its title from the Lady Grange who was shut up in St. Kilda [see Eerskine, James, Lord Grange]. It was supposed to have been written from that island, but the story told in the poem is entirely imaginary. Erskine was afraid that the fact of his having written poetry might injure his prospects as a lawyer, and so he sent the poem to London to be published, and did not attach his name to it. The secret, however, was revealed by a paragraph in the 'Monthly Magazine' for December 1797.

Erskine remained at Dunse till November 1803, but his salary was only 60l. a year and his prospects were bad. He therefore threw up his appointment and returned to Edinburgh with the intention of studying medicine. But he had not been there a fortnight before Sir James Mackintosh [q. v.] invited him to accompany him to India, promising him the first appointment in his gift. It seems that Erskine was introduced by James Reddie [q. v.] to Mackintosh, who was attracted by his taste for philosophical studies. He accepted Mackintosh's offer and left Edinburgh almost immediately. On 12 Dec. 1803 he reached London, and sailed from Hyde with Mackintosh and his family in February 1804. Mackintosh's estimate of Erskine is given in a letter dated 28 May 1807, and addressed to Dr. Parr, where he says, 'I had the good fortune to bring out with me a young Scotch gentleman, Mr. Erskine, who is one of the most amiable, ingenious, and accurately informed men in the world ' (Mackintosh, Life, i. 331). Erskine arrived in Bombay in May 1804, and on 26 Nov. he attended a meeting convened by Mackintosh at Pare! for the purpose of founding a literary society. The society became known as ' The Literary Society of Bombay,' and Erskine was its first secretary. Soon after his arrival he was appointed sealer and clerk to the small cause court. He was also for many years one of the stipendiary magistrates of Bombay.

Erskine must have begun early his Persian studies, for he states that he had translated a small portion of 'Babar's Memoirs' some years before 1810-11. Between 1813 and 1821 he contributed five articles to the 'Transactions of the Literary Society of Bombay,' of which three volumes were published in London, 1819-23 (republished in 1877 by V. N. Mandlik). The second article, read in 1813, was on the Cave Temple of Elephanta, and is probably the most valuable of the five. It is referred to by Reginald Heber [q. v.] in his ' Journal,' and is still a standard treatise on the subject. In 1820 Erskine was made master in equity in the recorder's court of Bombay by Sir William David Evans [q. v.] There he enjoyed the friendship and confidence of Mountstuart Elphinstone [q. v.], and was one of the committee of three which drew up the celebrated Bombay code of regulations. With reference to this, Elphinstone writes to Strachey on 3 Sept. 1820 (Life, i. 117) : The great security for the efficiency of this committee is in the character of Mr. Erskine, a gentleman out of the service, distinguished for the solidity of his understanding and the extent of his knowledge.' Erskine, however, did not hold his mastership in the court of equity long, for he left India under a cloud in 1823. He was removed from his offices in court, was accused of defalcations, and had to give heavy security before he was allowed to leave the country (Douglas, Glimpses of Old Bombay, London, 1900, p. 33). On the other hand, the chief-justice, Sir Edward West, who had been the recorder of the old court, appears to have behaved harshly to Erskine, the honesty of whose intentions was undoubted, though he must have been neglectful of his duties. Probably sickness was the cause, for he left India in bad health, and returned to England via China. On his departure the residents of Bombay presented him with an address. On his return from India Erskine at first settled in Edinburgh, and in 1826 he published the translation of 'Babar's Memoirs,' which had been completed and sent home ten years previously. From Erskine's preface it appears that he had been working at a translation of the 'Memoirs' from the Persian version while Leyden had been engaged on the other side of India in translating the same work from the Turki original. Leyden died in August 1811, before his translation was half finished, and Erskine, to