Page images
PDF
EPUB

of religious scruples, to secure the favour of the heir presumptive; and the latter, the partisans of the Church of England. The political sentiments of the two parties differed in much the same proportion as their religious tenets. The Duke of York and his followers saw no mode of enforcing their opinions, or even of enjoying them in security, unless by the establishment of an arbitrary authority in the Crown: popery and absolute power were never separated in their speculations. The Church of England courtiers, on the contrary, though anxious to maintain, and even to extend, all the prerogatives of the Crown, so as to preserve the country party, or the faction, as they were termed, in the state of depression to which the Restoration had reduced them, viewed with great jealousy the attempts of James and his friends to secure that despotic authority, which must necessarily terminate in the destruction of the establishment: of this Church of England party, the Lord Keeper Guilford was the acknowledged head. In point of numbers he was ill supported; the Earl of Rochester and Sir Leoline Jenkins, with, perhaps, the addition of Godolphin, being almost his only supporters in the cabinet. The views and objects entertained by this party, and the sentiments with which they regarded their adversaries, are minutely detailed in the Life of the Lord Keeper. The intrigues of James and his partisans are there clearly developed; and it is fully admitted that they tended to the establishment of an absolute authority in the Crown. No other of the court memoirs of the day contains so complete and candid an exposition of the objects with which James ascended the throne.

The Life of the Lord Keeper Guilford is likewise highly curious, on account of the many portraits that it presents of the most celebrated persons of the time, which, though displaying the colours of a party-writer, are yet, in many instances, striking and admirable likenesses. Of Jefferies (to whom no epithet can be applied sufficiently descriptive of his base and brutal nature) a greater number of characteristic anecdotes are preserved, than are to be met with in any other memoir-writer. Indeed, in his account of all the great lawyers of that period, with most of whom he was in habits of familiar intercourse, the author is singularly copious and amusing; although his prejudices have, in several instances, and particularly in the case of Sir Matthew Hale, led him into very injurious misrepresentations. With regard to the character of Lord Guilford himself, although the biographer has evidently delineated

it under the influence of feelings which rendered it impossible for him to be truly impartial, he has yet stated all his facts so candidly and ingenuously, that we have little difficulty in forming a just estimate of the Lord Keeper's real character. As a statesman, he was strictly honest, according to his own notions of political honesty-which, however, were not, it must be confessed, of the highest and purest kind. His prejudices were all on the side of prerogative; but they were yet bounded by some scruples in favour of the constitution, which prevented him from yielding, like Jefferies and Sunderland, to the mad designs of James II. As a lawyer and a judge, his merits, if not equal to the partial representations of his brother, must still be acknowledged to have been very considerable, and his integrity in the high offices which he filled, at a period not remarkable for the honesty of the public functionaries, was certainly highly creditable to him. his judicial merits, the most remarkable was the judicious zeal which he manifested in reforming the abuses of the courts in which he sate, and in his attempts to methodize and simplify the law. Had he presided for a longer period over the Court of Chancery, it is probable that improvements of a permanent and important nature

But among would have been effected in the practice of that court-a laborious enterprise, which every succeeding chancellor, down even to our own day, has either neglected or resisted. In all the private relations of life, a more pleasing character than that of the Lord Keeper has seldom been delineated. Though not impelled by strong feelings, his kindness to his friends, and particularly to his immediate relatives, was great and unvarying ; and few instances are perhaps to be found of four brothers, in mature life, so united and affectionate, as the subjects of the following Lives, and their zealous biographer. The Life of Sir Dudley North differs very

much in its character from that of the Lord Keeper. It is the history of a most ingenious merchant, who met with all the success which his ability and diligence merited. The narrative of his residence in Turkey is full of curious incident; and contains much matter illustrative of the history of our commerce at that period. The part which Sir Dudley North acted in the great dispute between the City of London and the Crown, is well known. He was one of the court sheriffs, whom the government imposed upon the city. This portion of his biography is, however, but slightly touched upon in the Life, as the author had detailed it at considerable length in the Examen. To the extraordinary abilities of Sir Dudley North, who had far preceded his age, in his opinions upon the subject of political economy, full justice has been done by a distinguished writer of our own day, to whose works a reference will be found in the following pages.

The Memoir of Dr. John North, with which the present volumes conclude, though it does not possess either that value, as a work of history, which distinguishes the Life of the Lord Keeper, or that lively amusement which the foreign adventures of Sir Dudley North supply, is yet full of its own peculiar interest. It presents an admirable picture of a scholar's life, and a no less afflicting and awful one of the illness and death, to which the habits of studious men too often lead.

In compiling these affectionate memorials of his brothers, the writer appears to have been chiefly actuated by his regard and veneration for their memory. Having survived them all, he was distressed to find the names of those whom he had so loved and honoured, passing rapidly into oblivion. During their lives, his happiest moments were spent in their society; and after their death, he found his greatest consolation in recording their history. This he has done with a minute

« PreviousContinue »