The Hon. Andrew Erskine was a younger brother of the
"musical Earl of Kellie." He held a lieutenant's commission in the 71st
regiment of foot, which corps being reduced in 1763, he exchanged from
half-pay in the 24th, then stationed at Gibraltar.
Erskine had little genius or inclination for a
military life; his habits and tastes were decidedly of a literary
character. He was one of the contributors to Donaldson's "Collection of
Original Poems by Scottish Gentlemen." He is chiefly known, however, for
his correspondence with Boswell (the biographer of Johnson), printed at
Edinburgh in 1763. These letters, the legitimate off-spring of "hours of
idleness," consist of a mixture of prose and verse; and are remarkable
for the spirit of extravagance which pervades them. Those of Boswell are
characteristic of the writer, and his pen might be traced in every line;
but it would be difficult to discover in the letters of Erskine any
marks of the dull, reserved disposition which was natural to him. His
manner was unobtrusive and bashful in the extreme. He indeed
occasionally alludes to this; and, in one of his poetical epistles to
"Yon kindly took me up an awkward cub,
And introduced me to the soaping club."
Some idea of Erskine's appearance may be gathered
from his friend's reply:
"Now, my lieutenant with the dusky face;
For though you're clothed in scarlet and in lace,
The gorgeous glare of which to art you owe,
Yet nature gave you not my snowy brow."
As a specimen of the lieutenant's style and humour,
we may quote the following from one of his letters, dated from New
Tarbat, where he appears to have resided principally during the
epistolary intercourse, and where Boswell paid him a visit—the friends
having previously met at Glasgow by appointment:—
"I have often wondered, Boswell, that a man of your
taste in music cannot play upon the Jew's harp; there are some of us
here that can touch it very melodiously, I can tell you. Corelli's solo
of Maggie Lauder, and Pergolesi's sonata of the Carle he cam''
o'er the craft, are excellently adapted to that instrument. Let me
advise you to learn it. The first cost is but three-halfpence, and they
last a long time. I have composed the following ode upon it, which
exceeds Pindar as much as the Jew's harp does the organ." [We quote the
"Roused by the magic of the charming wire,
The yawning dogs forego their heavy slumbers;
The ladies listen on the narrow stair,
And Captain Andrew straight forgets his numbers.
Cats and mice give o'er their battling,
Pewter plates on shelves are rattling;
But falling down, the noise my lady hears,
Whose scolding drowns the trump more tuneful than the spheres."
"Captain Andrew," however, could "touch it very
melodiously" on other instruments than the Jew's harp. He was an
excellent musician —little inferior to the "musical Earl" himself—and
composed several much admired airs. To Thomson's Collection of Scottish
Songs he contributed, among others, the delightful air and words of
"See the moon on the still lake is sleeping," etc.
The Captain was an admirer of the drama, and wrote
one or two pieces for the Edinburgh stage. One of these, by no means
deficient in spirit, published in 1764 (6d.), bears the title of "She's
not Him, and He's not Her—a farce, in two acts, as it is performed in
the Theatre in Canougate."
Although a poet, Erskine does not appear to have been
influenced by any romantic adoration of the fair sex. On the subject of
matrimony, his notions were very different from those of Boswell; and he
remained all his life a bachelor. In one of his letters to Boswell, he
says—"When you and I walked twice round the Meadows upon the subject of
matrimony, I little thought that my difference of opinion from you would
have brought on your marriage so soon." On the death of Vice-Admiral
Lord Colville, in 1790, he resided chiefly thereafter with his sister
Lady Colville, at Drumsheugh, near the Dean Bridge, Water-of-Leith. His
dress continued of the same fashion for nearly half a century; and he
wore the garters and flapped waistcoat to the last. The only change he
latterly adopted was a curiously formed flat round hat. He was a tall,
stout man, and particularly fond of walking. Every morning, and in all
weathers, he walked to the Hall's Inn, at Queensferry, where breakfast
was waiting him at his stated hour. He rang no bell—gave no orders—and
seldom saw a waiter. After breakfast, he turned up a plate, put his
money in payment upon it, and then walked back in the same solitary
manner to Drumsheugh.
Like many gentlemen of his day, Erskine indulged
occasionally at cards, and he was particularly partial to the game of
whist. He was, notwithstanding, no great player, and generally came off
the loser. It is supposed that an unlucky run at his favourite game was
the cause of his melancholy end. He was discovered drowned in the Forth
(October 1793), opposite Caroline Park.