The Life of Edward, Earl of Clarendon, Lord High Chancellor of England, and Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Written by Himself.
The first period is much the most entertaining. Clarendon was not industrious in his youth. He learnt very little at college, where indeed he was a mere boy; and his life as a law student 'was without great application to the study of the law for some years, it being then a time when the town was full of soldiers. . . . And he had gotten into the acquaintance of many of those officers, which took up too much of his time for one year.' He read some 'polite literature and history,' however, and, as he remarked in his old age, 'lived cauté if not castè.' He had, however, the means of seeing good society. He was connected by marriage with the family of the Marquis of Hamilton, and he was brought very early in his career into business of importance. In particular, he vindicated before the Privy Council the rights of the merchants of London, in a dispute which affected the revenue; and, in consequence of his management of the case, he was introduced to Archbishop Laud. His professional success and distinction put him in very pleasant circumstances. 'He grew every day in practice, of which he had as much as he desired; and, having a competent estate of his own, he enjoyed a very pleasant and a plentiful life, living much above the rank of those lawyers whose business was only to be rich, and was generally beloved and esteemed by most persons of condition and great reputation.'
His account of these pleasant days is by far the most interesting passage of his writings. It is composed of characters of Ben Jonson, Selden, Sir Kenelm Digby, May the historian of the Long Parliament, Lord Falkland, Waller the poet, Sheldon, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, Hales, Chillingworth, and some others of less note. The accounts of Falkland and Chillingworth are memorable passages in English literature, and deserve to be described as portraits of the highest excellence. The other characters are rather collections of remarks than pictures.
Clarendon's History and his Memoirs are full of interest, but their interest is that of the conversation of an experienced public man, who was, besides, one of the strongest of all conceivable partisans. It is not the interest of a work of art. Moreover, his extreme gravity and stateliness, though it allowed him to be sarcastic and occasionally humorous, prevented him from devising any of those pointed vigorous expressions which, as Mr. Carlyle says of some of Mirabeau's, make a complete portrait in three scratches and a dot. This renders his portraits far less amusing than they would otherwise have been, and in some respects less instructive.
That Clarendon's partisanship continually blinded his judgment is painfully obvious. This appears strikingly in the worship which he lavished on Charles I.; but he partially redeems his fault by his views of the Stuart family in general, and of Charles II. in particular. His account of him and his brother is an admirable specimen of the sarcastic vein which he sometimes indulged:—
'It was the unhappy fate of that family that they trusted naturally the judgments of those who were as much inferior to them in understanding as they were in quality. . . . They were too much inclined to like men at first sight, and did not love the conversation of men of many more years than themselves, and thought age not only troublesome but impertinent. They did not love to deny, and less to strangers than to their friends; not out of bounty or generosity, which was a flower that did never grow naturally in the heart of either of the families—that of Stuart or the other of Bourbon— but out of an unskilfulness and defect in the countenance; and when they prevailed with themselves to make some pause rather than to deny, importunities removed all resolution, which they knew not how to shut out nor defend themselves against, even when it was evident enough that they had much rather not consent. ... If the Duke seemed more fixed and firm in his resolutions, it was rather from an obstinacy in his will than from the constancy of his judgment.'A delightful character, from the most faithful servant and most zealous partisan that ever any family had.
We get, however, from Clarendon a very pleasing notion of his early friends. Perhaps the most characteristic point about them is their great intellectual activity, and the extraordinary degree of learning that some of them attained to.
Falkland appears to have formed a kind of centre for the whole party, when he was little over twenty; and the well-known passage in which his pursuits are described is so beautiful that we transcribe it:—
'His whole conversation was one continued conmrium philosophicum or convivium theologicum, enlivened and refreshed with all the facetiousness of wit and good humour, and pleasantness of discourse, which made the argument itself (whatever it was) very delectable. His house, where he usually resided (Tew or Burford, in Oxfordshire), being within ten or twelve miles of the University, looked like the University itself, by the company that was always found there. There was Dr. Sheldon, Dr. Morley, Dr. Hammond, Dr. Earles, Mr. Chillingworth, and indeed all men of eminent parts and faculties at Oxford, besides those who resorted thither from London; who all found their lodgings there as ready as in the colleges; nor did the lord of the house know of their coming or going, nor who were in his house, till he came to dinner or supper, where all still met; otherwise there was no troublesome ceremony or constraint to forbid men to come to the house, or to make them weary of staying there; so that many came thither to study in a better air, finding all the books they could desire in his library, and all the persons together whose company they could wish, and not find in any other society. Here Mr. Chillingworth wrote and formed and modelled his excellent book against the learned Jesuit Mr. Knott, after frequent debates upon the most important particulars.'Lord Falkland's own studies were remarkable:—
'There were very few classic authors in the Greek or Latin tongue that he had not read with great exactness; he had read all the Greek and Latin fathers, all the most allowed and authentic ecclesiastical writers, and all the Councils, with wonderful care and observation; for in religion he thought too careful and too curious an inquiry could not be made amongst those whose purity was not questioned'—and whose authority was appealed to on both sides. The sentence meanders on for thirteen lines more, which we spare our readers; but this is what it comes to.This passage — to which other well - known facts correspond—as, for instance, the prodigious learning of Selden, and the curiously minute acquaintance with all the details of English history which was shown in the great Parliamentary debates of the period, and of which Mr. Forster's Life of Eliot supplies numerous illustrations—raises the question whether men in those days were more energetic and industrious than in our own. To discuss it at length would lead us far from our present subject, but Clarendon's Life throws some light upon the matter.
There would seem to have been hardly any light literature in those days, plays excepted; and the common subjects of education were fewer than at present. Falkland, for instance, who was carefully educated at Dublin, knew no Greek till he taught it himself long afterwards. Clarendon learnt French only during his second exile, 'not,' he says, 'towards speaking it, the defect of which he found many conveniences in, but for the reading any books.' A man might get through a great deal of reading if there were no circulating library works, no periodical literature, and only one language besides his own, or at most two, which he had any occasion to understand.
Next to his own immediate friends, the most interesting personages described in the early part of Clarendon's Life are Archbishop Laud and Clarendon himself. He was very fond of Laud; he 'had so great an affection and reverence for his memory' that he 'believed him to be a man of the most exemplar virtue and piety of any of that age.' Laud took notice of him as he was just rising into large business at the Bar, and when life in general must have looked very bright to him; and probably some of the rays of that brightness fell upon the Archbishop. The only fault that he could, or would, see in him was the roughness of his manner.
Clarendon probably secretly liked him all the better for defects which he was conscious of not sharing, though he had a certain tendency towards them, corrected by education. Of Laud he observes, in a well-known passage:—
'It is the misfortune of most persons of that education (how worthy soever) that they have rarely friendships with men above their own condition, and that their ascent being commonly sudden from low to high, they have afterwards rather dependants than friends, and are still deceived by keeping somewhat in reserve to themselves even from those with whom they seem most openly to communicate, and, which is worse, receive for the most part their informations and advertisements from clergymen who understand the least, and take the worst measure of human affairs of all mankind that can write and read.'It is easy to trace in this celebrated passage the inward satisfaction with which Clarendon contrasted his own social advantages with the somewhat narrow education of Laud. His own temper apparently had something of the same sort of roughness in it, for he continually boasts of his habitual plainness of speech.
The following account of himself is one of the oddest passages that ever were written:—
'He was in his nature inclined to pride and passion, and to a humour between wrangling and disputing, very troublesome; which good company in a short time so much reformed and mastered, that no man was more affable and courteous to all kinds of persons; and they who knew the great infirmity of his whole family, which abounded in passion, used to say he had much extinguished the unruliness of that fire. That which supported and rendered him generally acceptable was his generosity (for he had too much a contempt of money), and the opinion men had of the goodness and justness of his nature which was transcendent in him, in a wonderful tenderness and delight in obliging. His integrity was ever without blemish, and believed to be above temptation. He was firm and unshaken in his friendships; and though he had great candour towards others in the differences of religion, he was zealously and deliberately fixed in the principles both of the doctrine and discipline of the Church.'Few men have sung their own praises with such calm assurance. Has any other writer said in so many words: 'Upon mature reflection, I pronounce myself to be a man of transcendent goodness and justice, wonderful tenderness, unblemished integrity, a firm friend, and as candid as I am strict in my religious views'? In every part of his autobiography Clarendon shows a solid, deliberate admiration of himself, which it seems hardly fair to call vanity, because it is so calm and grave.
The great blemish of the early part of the Memoirs is that they throw very little light either upon the history of Clarendon's earlier opinions or on the nature of his change. Perhaps the most plausible guess—for, after all, it is little more that can be made—as to his frame of mind, is that he was one of the very few who clearly understood the nature of the struggle between the King and the Parliament, and took part emphatically and passionately for the King; and this although, in the earlier part of his career, he was as well aware as any one of the existence of great abuses which required a remedy.
All study of that period leads to the conclusion that the real question was the question of sovereignty. Was the King or the Parliament to be the substantive or the adjective? Clarendon took the royal side, perhaps, all the more warmly because he had sufficient faith in it to wish to reform collateral abuses, like the Courts of the Earl Marshal and those of the President of the North, and the Council of Wales. He appears really and honestly to have believed that it was an everlasting divine decree that the King and the Bishops should direct, substantially and really, all the temporal and spiritual affairs of the nation, and that it was in the highest degree morally wicked, and even impious, to try to alter this arrangement.
Nothing is more difficult for us, at this distance of time, to realise, than the view which in those days a man like Clarendon took of a man like Hampden. What Hampden thought of Clarendon we do not know, but Clarendon obviously considered Hampden as a wicked man, a rebel, a traitor, and a hypocrite.
In a curious summary of his own experience of life with which the book concludes, he says, in language too ample for quotation, that he began by 'so great a tenderness and love towards mankind' that he believed every one to be virtuous, but that his Parliamentary experience soon taught him that men 'upon whose ingenuity and probity he would willingly have deposited all his concernments of this world' were 'totally false and disingenuous'; that 'religion was made a cloak to cover the most impious designs, and reputation of honesty a stratagem to deceive and cheat others who had no mind to be wicked.' It is true that he adds that the Court was 'as full of murmuring, ingratitude, and treachery against the best and most bountiful master in the world as the country and the city'; but scores of passages might easily be quoted from his works which show that he was utterly unable to believe that the Parliamentary party could have any conscientious belief at all in their own principles.
This intense zeal is the more difficult to explain because he stood almost alone in it. Falkland, for instance, was obviously in great doubt as to the course which he had taken; but perhaps the most curious case was that of Sir Edmund Verney, the standardbearer. On the march to Edge Hill he complimented Hyde on his cheerfulness, adding that, for his own part, he could not be cheerful:—
'"You," said Verney, "have satisfaction in your conscience that you are in the right; that the King ought not to grant what is, required of him . . . but for my part, I do not like the quarrel, and do heartily wish that the King would yield, and consent to what they desire. ... I will deal freely with you. I have no reverence for the Bishops for whom this quarrel subsists."'Clarendon's intense partisanship for the King and the Bishops, wherever he got it, certainly went a very long way, for it made him thoroughly disingenuous in his subsequent account of the transactions in which he was concerned. No one would ever guess from his writings that he had voted for Strafford's attainder, or for the Bill for perpetual Parliaments. Other instances of great forgetfulness or deceitfulness have been exposed elaborately by Mr. Forster in his Life of Eliot. It ought, however, to be observed that both his History and his Life are exceedingly imperfect. He omits many matters which ought to have found a place in his writings. For instance, he does not even allude to the Act for abolishing feudal tenures.
In the second stage of his life—the Civil War, and the years of exile which followed it—the autobiography adds little to the History of the Rebellion except a certain number of personal anecdotes. The most interesting relate to his residence at Jersey, where he employed himself, between 1646 and 1648, in writing his History. As usual, he commends his own industry with that grave, measured self-esteem which was peculiar to him:—
'He seldom spent less than ten hours in the day' (amongst his books and papers), 'and it can hardly be believed how much he read and writ there; inasmuch as he did usually compute that during his whole stay in Jersey, which was some months above two years, he writ daily little less than one sheet of large paper with his own hand.'Creditable enough, but nothing to make a marvel of, one would think.
The third part of Clarendon's Life stands alone, relating as it does, to a period subsequent to the termination of his History. It relates to the first years of the reign of Charles II. It is a good deal occupied with Clarendon's own personal affairs, which have now fallen much out of date. He finds it necessary, for instance, to go with extreme minuteness into most of the points on which his impeachment was grounded, and to show, step by step, how unreasonable they were, and how hardly he was used. This he does successfully enough, but at wearisome length to a modern reader.
One only of the personal scenes of the book is curious enough to be worth particular reference. It is the one in which he describes his behaviour on hearing of his daughter's private marriage to James II. When informed of the fact by the Marquis of Ormond and the Earl of Southampton, at the desire of Charles II., he behaved in a manner which it takes him two pages to describe, the nature of which is sufficiently indicated by the marginal notes which illustrate them. 'The Chancellor struck with it to the heart' is the summary of about half a page; 'and breaks out into a very immoderate passion' is the summary of the remainder. It is a most appropriate one, for the concluding sentences, the stately style of which is in strange contrast to their character, are:—
‘He hoped their Lordships would concur with him that the King should immediately cause the woman to be sent to the Tower, and to be cast into a dungeon, under so strict a guard that no person living should be committed to come to her; and then that an Act of Parliament should be immediately passed for the cutting off of her head, to which he would not only give his consent, but would very willingly be the first man to propose it; and whoever knew the man will believe that he said all this very heartily.'He also observed 'that he had much rather his daughter should be the Duke's whore than his wife,' as, in the first case, he might turn her out of doors, and have done with her; whereas, in the second, his duty as a loyal subject, and as first Minister of the Crown, would be to get her head cut off. This story is often told as a proof of the passionate, bigoted loyalty of Clarendon. We agree with Lord Campbell in thinking that his lordship did protest too much, and that in truth he was by no means so angry as he professed to be.
The worst part of his whole character—and the fault is illustrated in endless ways—is his frequent insincerity. No doubt the events of his life afforded much excuse for it, but it shows itself continually, and almost always in the same form. He keeps continually saying, almost in so many words, but at all events indirectly, 'I am a rough, honest, passionate, plainspoken man, proud of my sincerity, perhaps too secure in my good conscience. My frank harshness of manner was the cause of all my misfortunes.' The slyness which lurks under this sort of roughness is the slyest thing in the whole world.
The general view which the later part of the Life affords of the state of the country at the Restoration is exceedingly interesting. When attentively read, it shows what an immense change had been made by the Civil War in the position of Royalty, notwithstanding the eagerness with which Charles was welcomed back in the first instance.
It has been usual to represent Clarendon as the grave Mentor, the partisan of decency and order, who was driven into exile by the gross ingratitude and wickedness of a King who could not bear his own vices to be reproved, and of a Court which was the natural enemy of all decency and gravity. In all this there is a good deal of truth, but it is not the whole truth. There are many indications which it is impossible to mistake, though it would be difficult to exhibit them at full length in a moderate compass, that, apart from and over and above the offence given by Clarendon's well-deserved rebukes of Charles and his vices, Charles perceived that he did not enter into the spirit of the times, but belonged to a different age. Throughout the whole of his book he speaks of the Presbyterian party in a tone of rancorous moral condemnation. They had, he says in one place, no title to their lives except the King's mercy.
All his policy was in the same direction. He never could look upon any of the doings of the Long Parliament with toleration. For instance, the Triennial Act was then as much a part of the law of the land as any other; yet Charles said, in so many words, apparently with the full concurrence of his Chancellor, that he would never permit a Parliament to assemble under its provisions, because they were derogatory to the Royal power.
So Clarendon continually tried to get the King to dissolve the Parliament elected after his return—the second Long Parliament, as it was called. This seemed, and perhaps in some respects actually was, a constitutional measure, but Charles's reasons for not doing so show what the real issue between himself and his Chancellor was. He refused to dissolve the Parliament because he thought he could govern through it. His other counsellors told him 'that he would never have such another Parliament, where he had near one hundred members of his own menial servants and their near relations, who were all at his disposal.' Clarendon would, no doubt, have liked the Parliament to have greater purity and less power. Charles felt that the Parliament could never again recede to the position which it had occupied in the early part of the century, and that the only chance of maintaining his power was by the use of influence. The honester man of the two was less favourable to freedom than the other.
A remarkable summary of Clarendon's own views is given in the latter part of the book:—
'He did never dissemble from the time of his return with the King, whom he had likewise prepared and disposed to the same sentiments, whilst His Majesty was abroad, that his opinion was that the late rebellion never could be extirpated and pulled up by the roots till the King's regal and inherent power and prerogative should be fully avowed and vindicated, and till the usurpations in both Houses of Parliament, since the year 1640, were disclaimed and made odious; and many other excesses which had been affected by both before that time, under the name of Privileges, should be restrained or explained.'This was the leading idea of all his policy, and it is to be traced, in a variety of minute ways, in all that he has to say on the management of public affairs. He could not forgive Charles for being less of a Tory than himself:—
'The King had in his nature so little reverence or esteem for antiquity and did, in truth, so much contemn old orders, forms, and institutions, that the objections of novelty rather advanced than obstructed any proposition.'There are a good many incidental remarks in Clarendon's Life which throw light on the manners of the age which he describes.
He gives an account, for instance, of his way of spending his time when he began to get business at the Bar—i.e. at some period being between 1630 and 1640. How he spent his mornings does not appear; but he saw his friends at dinner, in the middle of the day. The afternoons 'he dedicated to the business of his profession,' and he read 'polite learning' at night. 'He never supped for many years before the troubles brought in that custom.' His vacation he passed in study, except two months in the summer, when he went out of town. He afterwards speaks of the House of Commons rising at four as a 'disorderly hour,' and refers to dinners given by the popular leaders after the House had risen. Probably this is what he means by the troubles bringing in the custom of supping.
During the Civil War there was a rapid transport of despatches, 'when gentlemen undertook the service, which they were willing enough to do,' between London and York. Letters went out at twelve on Saturday night and the answer returned at ten on Monday morning. Clarendon, too, gives us the first notice of newspapers :—
'After he ' (the King) 'had read his several letters of intelligence, he took out the prints of diurnals, and speeches, and the like, which were every day printed at London.'After the Restoration, he speaks of bankers as 'a tribe that had risen and grown up in Cromwell's time, and never were heard of before the late troubles, till when the whole trade of money had passed through the hands of the scriveners.'
He thinks it necessary to explain the word ' million' as often as he uses it, by adding, in a parenthesis, 'Ten hundred thousand.'
In a notice of Clarendon's History of the Rebellion, we gave a specimen of his occasional eloquence. We will conclude this notice of his Life, which is far from being an eloquent book, with a specimen of the wonderful clumsiness into which he habitually allowed himself to slide when he wrote under no special excitement.
'The Earl of Falmouth and Mr. Coventry were rivals who should have most interest in the Duke, who loved the Earl best, but thought the other the wiser man, who supported Pen (who disobliged all the courtiers), even against the Earl, who contemned Pen.'Here are five 'who's' in one sentence, and each refers to a different antecedent, namely, 1, Falmouth and Coventry; 2, the Duke of York; 3, Coventry; 4, Pen; and 5, Falmouth. The translation of the passage is as follows: 'The Earl of Falmouth and Mr. Coventry were rivals in the pursuit of interest with the Duke of York. The Duke liked Lord Falmouth best, but thought Mr. Coventry the wiser man. Coventry supported Pen even against Lord Falmouth, who contemned Pen. Pen on the other hand disobliged all the courtiers.'
Saturday Review, January 6, 1866.