Rev John Erskine (1721-1803)

27] Rev John Erskine (1721-1803) was the son of John Erskine of Carnock, Professor of Scots law at Edinburgh University.  He started to study law at Edinburgh University but decided to change course in favour of the church. After occupying a number of charges he was appointed joint minister of Greyfriars Church, in partnership with William Robertston (see above), who had been his close friend since their University days together.  Erskine served his church faithfully for forty-five years; Walter Scott described his preaching in Guy Mannering:

Something there was of an antiquated turn of argument and metaphor, but it only served to give zest and peculiarity to the style of elocution.   The sermon was not read – a scrap of paper, containing the heads of the discourse, was occasionally referred to, and the enunciation, which at first seemed imperfect and embarrassed, became, as the preacher warmed in his progress, animated and distinct: and, although the discourse could not be quoted as a correct specimen of pulpit eloquence, yet Mannering had seldom heard so much learning, metaphysical acuteness, and energy of argument, brought into the service of Christianity. 

Erskine had strong opinions about political matters – often at variance with the views of Robertson which did not, however, affect their friendship. He opposed waging war against the rebelling American colonies, an opinion which was regarded as being almost treasonable at that time, and was bitterly against any attempts to repeal the penal statutes against Catholics.

A curious coincidence links the Erskine family with Parliament Square, in a way which he could never have anticipated.  In 1821 John Erskine’s grandson, James Stuart of Dunearn, a landowner in Fife and a staunch Whig, became involved in a widely publicised event in which he horse-whipped Duncan Stevenson in the Square. Stevenson was the proprietor of a Tory newspaper, the Beacon, which had pilloried Stuart in several articles. This event was one of a number of incidents which lead eventually to a duel between James Stuart and Sir Alexander Boswell, the elder son of James Boswell, who had been the anonymous author of many of the articles mocking Stuart.  Boswell suffered a fatal wound and Stuart was charged with murder but was found not guilty by the jury as was almost routine in affairs of this kind.  Stuart later inherited the Erskine estate of Carnock from an uncle.[i]

[i] A full account of the duel  and  its causes and consequences is given in Duel Personalities  Chalmers J (2014)