« PreviousContinue »
was a man of highly scrupulous conscience, and is said to have abandoned his profession, on the ground that the practice of it was not consistent with a strict adherence to truth and justice. According to Burnet, “ he gave over the practice of the law, because he could not unders stand the reason of giving colour in pleading, which, as he thought, was to tell a lie.” While yet an infant, Matthew Hale was deprived of both his parents, and was educated under the directions of Anthony Kingscot, of Kingscot, esquire, his next kinsman, after his uncles, on the maternal side.
His guardian, being attached to the doctrines of the Puritans, placed young Hale under the tuition of teachers professing similar opinions; and at this period of his life it is probable that those habits of strictness, which afterwards distinguished both his principles and manners, were formed.
At the age of seventeen, he became a student of Magdalen-hall, Oxford ; and for some time distinguished himself there, as at school, by his proficiency in his studies. The dissipations of the university, however, offered temptations which the youthful Puritan was unable to resist; and he plunged into the abomination of stage-plays with a looseness proportioned to his former austerity. Rejecting the precise garments, to which he had been accustomed, he began to indulge in the sinfulness of fashionable habiliments; and being gifted by nature with a powerful and agile frame, he forsook the lectures of his tutor for the lessons of the fencing-master. To such an extent, at this period, did he
carry his love for martial weapons, that on his tutor's departure to the Low Countries, as the chaplain of the celebrated Lord Vere, young Hale resolved to accompany him, and, in the military phrase of the seventeenth century, to trail a pike in the Prince of Orange's army.
From the execution of this warlike resolution he was deterred by an accident. Being engaged in a suit at law relating to his estate, he was induced to visit London, with a view of forwarding the interests of his suit. Having
* Life of Hale, p. 2.
retained Serjeant Granville (Note 22.] he became personally acquainted with that learned lawyer, who, remarking the many valuable qualities which his young client possessed, persuaded him to relinquish his idea of military service, and to devote himself to the study of the law. Accordingly, on the 8th November, 1629, he was admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn. The ardour which he had lately displayed in the pursuit of pleasure was now applied to better purposes; and he commenced his studies with a zealous industry which could not fail to
Discarding his gay clothing, he assumed à plain and student-like habit, and for some years [Note 23.] devoted sixteen hours each day to study. But in despite of this change, his attachment to convivial society still occasionally over-mastered him, till an incident occurred which produced a powerful effect upon his mind. Having joined a party of his companions, they indulged so deeply in draughts of wine, that one of the company became insensible, and the most serious apprehensions were entertained for his life. Hale was so much affected by this accident, that, retiring into another room, he fell upon his knees, and prayed earnestly to God that his friend might be restored, and that he might be himself pardoned for having been a participator in such ex
At the same time he made a vow never more to be guilty of similar intemperance, nor again to drink a health while he lived, a vow which he is said to have observed with much strictness. It was probably under the influence of these feelings that he composed that scheme of daily employments, which his reverend biographer has preserved *, and which is remarkable for the tone of strict religious feeling pervading it.
His early impressions appear to have recurred in full force; and so austere did he become, as to exhibit the greatest negligence in his personal appearance, insomuch, that upon one occasion he was impressed as a fit person to serve his majesty, and was only released in consequence of his being recognised by some passing acquaintance.
* Burnet's Life, p. 9.
The diligence and ability displayed by Hale attracted the attention of Noy, the attorney-general (Note 24.), who undertook to direct his studies, and evinced so warm an interest in his success, that he was distinguished amongst his fellow-students by the name of young Noy. The patronage of less important personages than an attorney-general has been found beneficial to many an unknown young lawyer; and under the auspices of Noy the talents of Hale speedily became known. Nor did he himself neglect any means which industry and perseverance could afford of ensuring success. According to the laborious practice of that day, he compiled in the course of his professional studies a common-place book, exhibiting so much learning and diligence, that when he was afterwards raised to the dignity of chief baron, it was borrowed from him by one of the judges of the king's bench, who, on perusing it, declared, that, though composed at so early an age, it was a performance which no lawyer in England could have surpassed [Note 25.] In prosecuting his studies, Hale did not confine himself to an acquaintance with the principles of our own municipal law, but likewise turned his attention to the writers on Roman jurisprudence, in whose works he discovered the origin and grounds of many of the rules which prevail in our own system. It was to him a subject of regret, and the sentiment may at the present day be repeated, that the principles of the civil law are so seldom studied by our common lawyers.
It was the good fortune of Hale, at this early period of his life, to secure the friendship of two very eminent persons, the learned Selden* and John Vaughan (Note 26.), afterwards chief justice of the court of common pleas. The various acquirements and instructive conversation of the former led young Hale to extend the scope
of his studies, and to apply himself to literary and scientific pursuits. Some branches of the mathematics and of natural philosophy engaged a considerable portion of his attention, and his writings on these subjects attest the
See his Life, in this volume,
diligence of his application. He took a pleasure, also, in studying medicine and anatomy, in which his biographer affirms him to have made no inconsiderable progress. Ancient history and chronology also afforded an employment for his leisure hours; but his principal delight was the study of divinity, to which he was probably led by the associations of his childhood. These pursuits he used to call his diversions, to which he recurred for refreshment, when fatigued with his professional studies. Like many men of ardent genius, he possessed the valuable faculty of applying the powers of his strong and active mind to various subjects, without that distraction of thought to which persons of inferior capacity are subject. His indefatigable industry also enabled him to accomplish tasks which to the indolent would seem incredible. He rose early in the morning, and as he sacrificed no portion of the day to idle society, nor even indulged in any useless correspondence by letter, he found leisure to apply to his various literary pursuits without injury to his professional prospects. His temperance also was highly favourable to mental occupations; and so sparing was he in his diet, that his meals never prevented him from immediately resuming the labours which they had interrupted. It is, perhaps, to the variety of studies in which Hale engaged that his extensive learning is to be attributed. A complete change in the nature of the objects upon which the mind is engaged is almost equivalent to repose, and is, perhaps, equally salutary to the mental health.
With all the advantages which his long and laborious studies could confer, Hale was called to the bar. The period of his entrance into public life was unfavour. able. The civil dissensions with which the country was beginning to be harassed rendered it difficult for the members of a profession standing so conspicuously in the eye of the public to play a wise and honest part. The early prepossessions of Hale must have led him to favour the country party, while his intimacy with Noy might probably induce him to regard the friends
of prerogative with less distaste. In forming the scheme of his conduct at this difficult period of his life, he is said to have proposed to himself as a model the character of Atticus, who, amidst the turbulence of contending factions, met with the esteem and regard of all. [Note 27.] In imitation of the Roman, Hale resolved to take no part in the political contests with which the country was agitated. The only interest which he manifested in public affairs was in succouring the distressed of both parties. The strict neutrality thus professed by Hale, at à period when so much was at stake on both sides, is not a subject for applause. When the violent and the indiscreet of all parties are roused to action, it does not become the moderate and sensible portion of society to remain unmoved, and to preserve their individual repose at the expense of the tranquillity of the state. At a later period of his life Hale appears to have been sensible of this error, and exerted the influence which his high character gave him in endeavouring to place the liberties of his country upon a sure foundation.
The neutrality which he observed in politics, and the esteem in which he was held by both parties, on account of his general character, rendered him a very desirable advocate to such of the prerogative party, as were put upon their trials for political offences. He was accordingly engaged in many of the great state trials of this period, and appeared as counsel for the Earl of Strafford and for Archbishop Laud. The argument delivered on this occasion by Herne, the archbishop's leading counsel, is said to have been compiled by Hale. [Note 28.] He was also counsel for the Duke of Hamilton, Lords Holland, Capel, and Craven. On the trial of the latter nobleman, it is said, that on being threatened by the attorney-general for appearing against the government, he answered, " that he was pleading in defence of those laws which they declared they would maintain and preserve, and he was doing his duty
* 4 State Trials, 338.