Extempore, in the Court of Session


Lord Advocate He clench'd his pamphlets in his fist, He quoted and he hinted, Till in a declamation-mist, His argument he tint it: He gaped for 't, he graped for 't, He fand it was awa, man; And what his common sense came short, He eked out wi' law, man. Mr Erskine Collected, Harry stood awee, Then open'd out his arm, man; His lordship sat wi' ruefu' e'e, And ey'd the gathering storm, man: Like wind-driv'n hail it did assail, Or torrents owre a lin, man; The bench sae wise lift up their eyes, Half-wauken'd wi' the din, man.

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Barbara Rafferty

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1787 and is read here by Barbara Rafferty.

More about this poem

Burns composed these lines in 1787 after a visit to the Court of Session in order to hear the case of Campbell v. Montgomerie.

Captain James Montgomerie and Mrs Maxwell Campbell had become lovers, which resulted in the birth of a child in 1784. Maxwell Campbell sued for damages and Montgomerie departed for the West Indies.

The Lord Advocate in this poem is Ilay Campbell (1734-1823), while Mr Erskine is Henry Erskine (1746-1817), Dean of the Faculty (1786), who became a friend and patron to Burns.

Although Campbell was a capable figure in the law courts, Erskine had a gift for rhetoric and a quick wit to match it, and it was this difference which Burns noted in the poem.

Ralph McLean

Themes for this poem

man work humour

Selected for 03 October

On this day in 1706, the Scottish Parliament met for the last time until its restoration in 1999. Scotland retained its own distinctive legal system however and advocates still plead and read in the place where legislators used to pass the laws they cite and interpret.

Donny O'Rourke

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