The Times/1926/Obituary/Thomas Erskine Holland
Sir Erskine Holland
A Great International Jurist
We regret to announce that Emeritus Professor Sir (Thomas) Erskine Holland died yesterday afternoon at his residence, Poynings House, Oxford, at the age of 90. He was a jurist of European reputation, who occupied with distinction, for 36 years, the Chichele Chair of International Law and Diplomacy at Oxford, who continually gave valuable help to successive British Governments, and who brought to his subject an extraordinary industry, wide reading, and an acute and subtle intellect. Readers of The Times are well aware of his remarkable gifts for he was a constant correspondent of this journal; in 1909 he reprinted his "Letters to The Times on War and Neutrality," and in 1921 he collected the letters of 40 years 1881 to 1920.
The English family of Holland for some centuries has been connected with Conway in Wales. Robert Holland was a Welsh divine whose works are known to those who have explored the literature of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Sixth in descent from Robert was Samuel, rector of Poynings, in Sussex, who married the eldest daughter of the Lord Chancellor Erskine; their son, Thomas Agar Holland, succeeded his father in the living; he was a poet, whose earlier efforts were praised by Sir Walter Scott, and Professor Holland was his eldest son.
Born on July 17, 1835, in the reign of King William IV, he accompanied his father to Poynings in 1846, and his school days were passed at Brighton College. In 1854 he entered Balliol college as a commoner; about a year later he obtained a demyship at Magdalen. He was most attracted by Greek philosophy, and he combined this study with healthy exercise, for Mansel's lecture at Magdalen ended about noon and Jowett began lecturing a few minutes later at the Taylorian building. Holland joined two essay societies, one being the famous Old Mortality, of which Bryce, T. H. Green, and Dicey were members. He was also stroke of the Magdalen boat. His industry was rewarded with a first class in Lit. Hum., and he was elected a Fellow of Exeter College, where he spent part of his probationary year in teaching philosophy; he gained the Chancellor's prize for an English essay on the advantages of charitable endowments. He also planned an edition of the "De Anima," but the publisher whom he consulted was not encouraging, and he turned from philosophy to law.
On removing to London he read in chambers with Mr. Butterworth, the special pleader, with his kinsman, Henry Erskine, and with De Morgan, the conveyancer. He was called to the Bar by Lincoln's Inn in 1863, and joined the Home Circuit. His practice was never very large, but he had some briefs and the hope of more; he wrote a treatise on Composition Deeds, and many articles in various journals; he was also one of the band of young lawyers enlisted by the Saturday Review. Keen as he always was in his professional work, he found time for subjects which lay off the beaten track; he studied Roman Law, and busied himself with project from improving the form of English law. His essays on this latter topic were collected in a volume. In 1871 Mr. Holland married Louise Henriette, daughter of M. Jean Delessert; her family was, and is, well known in France, especially in official and artistic society.
Oxford had not forgotten him, and in 1874 he was appointed to the Vinerian Readership in English Law. Later in the same year Dr. Bernard resigned the Chichele Chair of International Law and Diplomacy and Mr. Holland was chosen as his successor. His inaugural lecture was devoted to the life and works of Alberigo Gentili, the learned Italian doctor, who taught the civil law at Oxford, in the reign of Elizabeth. The merits of this very able writer had been obscured by the fame of his brilliant disciple, Grotius, and Italian jurists were grateful to the English professor who revived the memory of their countryman. Before many years elapsed Holland found himself an honorary professor of Perugia, an honorary citizen of San Ginesio, where Alberigo was born, and a knight of the Crown of Italy. He did much to advance and to develop the special study for which he was responsible. In 1875 he became an Associate and later a full member of the Institut de Droit International. In 1880 he invited the members to meet in oxford, where they lived in college rooms. Professor Bluntschli, who was of the party, afterwards declared that he had n ever drunk better beer anywhere than the beer of All Souls. His own Government frequently invoked Holland's assistance. He drafted the Naval Prize Act and he prepared the Admiralty Manual of Prize Law, published in 1888. The War Office also employed him to draft instructions for troops in the field; this handy manual was expanded and rearranged in the volume know as the "Laws of War on Land," published in 1904. When the Governments of Europe agreed to a revision of the Geneva Convention, he rendered valuable service in the preparation and discussion of the British projet, and he was one of the plenipotentiaries who attended the Conference at Geneva in 1906. Foreign Governments also availed themselves of his advice.
In 1876 Dr. Holland succeeded Dr. Adams as Assessor in the Chancellor's Court at Oxford, a civil tribunal exercising jurisdiction in cases where members of the University are concerned. He set himself to recast and improve the rules of the Court, and he tool the lead in procuring an Order in Council to alter the somewhat irrational system of appeals. He was not afraid to revise the scared volume of the "Corpus Statutorum," and during Jowett's Vice-Chancellorship considerable progress was made in the codification of the existing law of the University. Where questions arose as to the privileges or the legal duties at the University, the Chicele Professor was ready with an exhaustive opinion; he had studied closely the ancient statutes and customs, and did not limit his attention to modern rules. He was in many ways so useful to the governing authorities that he might fairly have expected to take a leading part in debate; but Congregation and Convocation are more or less popular assemblies, and Holland was too lawyerlike to make a good party leader. He was apt to be over-precise, and he insisted too strenuously on points which the average layman thought quite important.
After his retirement from the chair of International Law Dr. Holland continued to take an active part in the affairs of All Souls College of which for some time before his death he was senior Fellow. Up till the time of his last illness he was most punctual in his attendance to college business and was present at all important college meetings. Even at the age of 90 he came from time to time to dine in Hall on Sundays, and on last All Soul's Day at the service he read the first lesson. Though severely handicapped by increasing blindness he retained much of his bodily and mental vigour almost to the last, and even went up to London at the spring of this year to attend a meeting of the British Academy. He was also a great walker and passionately devoted to the Alps, visiting the Eggishorn every summer (with the exception of the war period) since the late sixties. In this inaccessible spot perched high up on a mountain side 4,000 ft above the level of the valley, he was staying only last year at the well-known hotel which cannot be reached except on foot or by riding on a mule (a form of transport which he scornfully rejected except in the last few years). But every day he took walks of a considerable distance and his relish for mountain exercise was unabated.
It was Dr. Holland's fortune to be much engaged in practical business, but he never lost his interest in the scientific and literary aspects of the law. He was, on the whole, an orthodox adherent of the English school of jurisprudence; but he knew very well that John Austin had encumbered his theory of law with unnecessary matter, and that the historical method, as applied by Sir Henry Maine, had, so to speak, shifted the point of view. A new book was needed and Dr. Holland's "Elements of Jurisprudence" met the general demand. This book has gone through 13 editions: it gained for the author in 1894 the Swiney Prize of £100 and a silver cup. In 1910 Holland resigned the professorship after a tenure of 36 years, and the University conferred on him the title of Emeritus Professor. Continuing to live in Oxford, he retained to the full his interest in legal and constitutional questions. During the war his knowledge of international law was frequently drawn upon, and in 1917 he received the honour of knighthood.
Holland was an honorary member of many learned societies, a Fellow of the British Academy, a K. C. and a Bencher of Lincoln's Inn, D.C.L. of Oxford, and Honorary Doctor of Bologna, Glasgow, Dublin, and Brussels. In 1903-5 he served on the Royal Commission on the Supply of Food in Time of War. He was elected a member of the Athenæum under Rule II. 43 years ago. By his marriage with Mlle. Delessert he had five sons, four of whom survive him, including Sir Robert Erskine Holland, K.C.I.E., and a daughter. Mrs. Holland died in 1891, and in 1895 Dr. Holland married Mrs. Edwards, daughter of Mr. D. Edwards, M.R.C.S., of Wimbledon, and wide of the Rev. Stephen Edwardes, of Merton College, Oxford.