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“ The evening that we went upon this errand to Whitehall,” says Roger North, “ some of us stayed in expectation of his coming home, which was not till near ten; little doubting the change that was to happen. At last he came with more splutter than ordinary, divers persons (for honour) waiting, and others attending to wish him joy, and a rabble of officers that belonged to the seal completing the crowd which filled his little house. His lordship, by despatching these incumbrances, got himself clear as fast as he could, and then I alone stayed with him. He took a turn or two in his diningroom and said nothing, by which I perceived his spirits were very much roiled; therefore I kept silence also, expecting what would follow. There was no need of asking what news when the purse with the great seal lay upon the table. At last his lordship’s discourses and actions discovered that he was in a very great passion, such as may be termed agony, of which I never saw in him any like appearance since I first knew him. He had kept it in long, and after he was free it broke out with greater force, and, accordingly, he made use of me to ease his mind upon. That which so much troubled him, was the being thought so weak as to take ill usage from those about the king (meaning the Earl of Rochester), with whom he had lived well, and ought to have been better understood. And instead of common friendship, to be haggled withal about a pension, as at the purchase of a horse or an ox, and after he had declared positively not to accept without a pension, as if he were so frivolous to insist and desist all in a moment, and, as it were, to be wheedled and charmed by their insignificant tropes; and, what was worse than all, as he more than once repeated, to think me worthy of so great a trust, and withal so little and mean as to endure such usage as was disobliging, inconsistent, and insufferable. What have I done,' said he, that may give them cause to think me of so poor a spirit as to be thus trifled with ?' And so on with much more of like animosity, which I cannot undertake to remember. And, after these exhalations, I could perceive that by degrees his mind became more composed.”
Upon taking his seat in the court of chancery, the first object of the lord keeper was to reform, so far as lay in his own power, the abuses of the court. - The greatest pain he endured,” says his biographer, “ moved from a sense he had of the torment the suitors under went by the excessive charges and delays of the court; for the easing of whom he was always in thought more or less, to contrive ways and means of expedition and retrenchment of charges.” The variety of opposing interests rendered this a difficult task; but the lord keeper proposed to accomplish it gradually, without alarming the officers of the court by the introduction of a sudden and violent reform.“ As occasion proffered, he declared his mind, and retrenched many superfluities, or rather nuisances, in the court.” One of his first measures was to put an end to the innumerable motions for speeding or delaying the hearing of causes. [Note 40.] His next attempt was to reform the practice with regard to the masters' reports. “ His lordship also," says Roger North,“ set himself to stop the superfetation of orders : and they were a subject of his daily reprehension ; for the causes often came to a hearing with a file of orders in the solicitor's bundle as big as the Common PrayerBook, for commissions, injunctions, publications, speedings, delayings, and other interlocutories, all dear ware to the client in every respect. But in a few terms his lordship reduced the quantities, for he was strict to the observance of his rules; and for the most part refused to make orders nisi, &c., as commonly was prayed, when notice was not given of the motion.” Much delay was also prevented by refusing rehearings and re-references except upon the most substantial cause. Lastly, the state of the register's office engaged his lordship's attention; but he found it very difficult “ to break the neck of those wicked delays used there.” It is not improbable, that if the lord keeper had held the seals a few
years longer, he would have published a book of orders; which, as his biographer observes, “ would have gone a great way towards purging out the peccant humours of the court.” During his administration in the court of chancery, the lord keeper was not altogether free from suspicion of that corruption which was unfortunately not very rare at that period *; but there appears to be no sufficient foundation for such imputations.
At the period when the lord keeper ascended the woolsack, he found an administration with whose views, for the most part, he concurred. But on the accession of Sunderland and Godolphin, and more especially of the Lord Chief Justice Jefferies, to the cabinet, the position of the lord keeper became a very painful one, Being himself a resolute protestant, he ran counter to the designs of the other ministers; who, better acquainted than himself with the secret wishes of the king, were desirous of pushing the prerogative to its greatest extent, in defence of the persecuted papists. Accord ingly, on a motion made by Jefferies to grant a general pardon to the imprisoned recusants, the lord keeper was the only member of the cabinet who opposed the design. “That night," says his biographer, “his lordship came home full of melancholy; and it was some time before any person near him knew the occasion of it. But he would sometimes break out in exclama. tions, as — What can be the meaning! Are they all stark mad?' and the like.” The policy observed by the lord keeper at court was that of the old English Tory; and he looked with great jealousy upon those intemperate advisers who would have persuaded the king to resort to measures of violence.
His mode of life at this period is thus described by his brother: -“His lordship's method of living, with respect to his great employment, was very commendable; for all his time was devoted to the business incumbent on him. He put but very little of it to his own use; and what passed in easy conversation, which was the
See the Lives of the Chancellors, vol. i. p. 178
chief of his pleasures, had still a regard to his employ, by enquiring, canvassing, and debating, with those of his society, such points as concerned the republic. He had no kind of vice or immorality within his walls; and of what sort his remissions were (for some are necessary to life) I shall give a fuller account afterwards. But it is decent here to name the chief, which was a solitary, or rather speculative, use of music, of which he commonly took a relish at his going to bed; for which end he had a harpsichord at his bedchamber-door, which a friend touched to his voice. But he cared not for a set of masters to consort it with him. And, unless it were once under Purcell's conduct, I never knew him use such ; for there was somewhat stiff in that way that was not easy. The mornings were for the most part devoted to the justice-seat of the chancery, either in the court at Westminster or in the cause-room at home, during the usual periods, and not seldom in attendances upon petitions, and despatching the perpetual emergen, cies of the seal. His house was kept in state and plenty, though not so polite as the court-mode was. The nobility and chief gentry coming to London were frequent at his table: and after a solemn service of tea in a withdrawing room, the company usually left him; and then the cause-room claimed him, and held him in pain with causes and exceptions often till late. He had little time to himself, for he had this infirmity, that he could not bear to make any one wait; but if his servant told him of any person, great or small, that waited without; he could not apply to think of or do any thing till he had despatched him. The interval between the business of the day and going to bed was his chief refreshment, for then his most familiar friends came to him, and the time passed merrily enough : and then it was that the court-spies found access to plumb his most free sentiments, but with small profit, for he had the same face and profession in public as he had in private; they could discover only that he was an honest man: but more of this elsewhere. His attendances at Whitehall were
chiefly at solemn times, as on Sunday morning to wait on the king to chapel. That was usually a grand assembly of the court, and the great men had opportunity to speak in discourse to the king as he gave them occasion, of which his majesty was no niggard ; and very excellent things said there on the one side and on the other were a high regale to such as had the advantage to stand within hearing. On the week-days, those called councildays always, and sometimes committees of council, required his lordship's attendance; and Thursday was always public; others for private business upon summons.”
On the death of Charles II. the prospects of the lord keeper suffered a material change. “ With the death of this good master and sovereign all his lordship's hopes and joys perished; and the rest of his life, which lasted not long after, was but a slow dying.” Although on the accession of James there was no appearance of displacing him, yet it was obvious to an accurate observer, that he could not, for any long space of time, be allowed to retain both the seals and the principles which he had hitherto professed. His unfitness for the part which it was expected he should act soon became apparent. On the question as to the levying of the tonnage and poundage, which had only been granted to the crown during the life of Charles II., the Lord Chief Justice Jefferies advised the king to issue a proclamation, commanding the collection and payment of the tax as before. To this proposition, so clearly illegal, the lord keeper would not consent, but proposed a course which, though not strictly constitutional, yet bore some semblance of a regard for the laws. He advised that the proclamation should require the duties to be collected and paid into the exchequer, there to await the disposal of parliament. “ But it seems,” says Roger North, “ that this was too low and trimming for the state of the court at that time, and a positive proclamation issued." Upon another occasion the lord keeper rendered himself still more obnoxious to the court. At the elections for the