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with large additions, was printed in 1631 ; and a third edition appeared in 1672.
For several years Selden did not appear again before the public; but in 1616 he edited the treatise of Sir John Fortescue, De laudibus legum Angliæ, together with the Summæ of Hengham, to both of which he subjoined numerous notes. In the same year, also, he addressed to Sir Francis Bacon, who had just obtained the great seal, his Brief Discourse touching the office of lord chancellor of England. In the following year he communicated to Purchas, who was then publishing his “ Pilgrimage," a short tract “ Of the Jews, sometimes living in England.”
It will be observed, that in the foregoing works Selden had confined himself to the illustration of the laws and antiquities of his own country; but in the year 1617 he appeared in the new character of a biblical scholar and antiquarian. In that year was published his celebrated work, De Diis Syriis syntagmata duo; in which he treated of the false deities mentioned in the Old Testament, and of the nature of the Syrian idolatry in general. This learned performance made the name of Selden generally known to the scholars of the continent; and, in 1627, it was reprinted by the Elzevirs, under the superintendence of De Dieu, one of the professors in the Walloon college at Leyden, and of Daniel Heinsius, to whom the author dedicated the edition. Such was the reputation which this work gained abroad, that in 1662, and in 1680, it was again reprinted at Leipsic.
. As yet the labours of Selden had served but to contribute to his honour and fame: but his next publication was productive of different consequences. In the year 1618 he gave to the public his History of Tithes; in which he traced, with great learning and ingenuity, the rise and progress of that ecclesiastical payment, so as to overthrow the theory of those zealous churchmen who contended for the divine right of tithes. It was not to be expected that, at a period when the church of England exercised so triumphant a sway, a work tending to subvert the divine title of her ministers to their temporalities would be suffered to appear without incurring every cen. sure, ecclesiastical and temporal, which it was in the power of the church and her sons to inflict. Indignant at the learned outrage of which Selden had been guilty, the head of the church resolved to vindicate the rights of his servants. Accordingly, in December 1618, Selden was summoned to appear before the king at his palace of Theobalds. The guilty scholar was introduced by his friends Ben Jonson and Edward Heyward, and the royal theologian was pleased to point out to him the obnoxious passages in his work. A kingly critic is seldom mistaken; and Selden submissively promised to write an explanation of the passages to which his majesty had objected. Not content with this retractation, the churchmen, in the following month, summoned Selden before the court of high commission, when the unfortunate scholar was compelled to subscribe the following ignominious declaration:
“My good lords, I most humbly acknowledge the error I have committed in publishing the History of Tithes; and especially in that I have at all, by showing any interpretation of Holy Scriptures, by meddling with councils, fathers, or canons, or by what else soever occurs in it, offered any occasion of argument against any right of maintenance, jure divino, of the ministers of the gospel: beseeching your lordships to receive this ingenuous and humble acknowledgment, together with the unfeigned protestation of my grief, for that through it I have so incurred both his majesty's and your lordships' displeasure, conceived against me on behalf of the church of England. JOHN SELDEN.”
That Selden displayed upon this occasion a want of that high moral courage which is one of the first and noblest qualities of a good citizen must be admitted ; but the nerves of the martyr and of the patriot are not found in every frame: nor can it justly be made the subject of peculiar reproach, that the learning of Selden was not accompanied by the courage of Hampden. The studious habits of the scholar were but too well calculated to ena gender that " indulgence to his safety," of which Cla
rendon speaks as one of the characteristics of Selden's disposition; and it has been well and justly remarked, that this error, “ proceeding from natural timidity, and operating only defensively, is much less culpable in a moral estimate, than that spontaneous assumption of unreal sentiments and opinions which we see too often practised for profit or advancement.” * Still it must be confessed, that it is impossible to view the character of Selden with that deep respect and fervent admiration. with which we regard those resolute and high-minded men, whom no threats can prevail upon to retract, where they are conscious of having acted rightly.
Not content with employing the royal influence and the strong arm of the high commissioners to silence the unfortunate Selden, his antagonists resolved also to attackhim with his own weapons; and accordingly numerous answers were poured out by the exasperated champions of the church. But to every answer there might be a reply; and Selden was not a man who would willingly decline a controversy. To prevent so dangerous a warfare, in which it was probable that the doctrine of divine right, as applied to temporal matters, would be treated with no gentle hand, the king interposed his royal authority; and, sending for Selden, sternly forbade him to make any reply to the refutation which Mountagu, one of the state chaplains, was about to publish of the History of Tithcs. “ If you, or any of your friends,” said his majesty, “shall write against this confutation, I will throw you into prison !” In answer to this cogent and conclusive argument Selden had nothing to offer, and contented himself with circulating amongst his friends some observations upon the works of his critics.
The anger of the king had been so greatly excited by this attack upon the privileges of his clergy, that Selden, who had not yet learned to withstand the frowns of royalty, found it necessary to propitiate his majesty by a recantation of certain opinions, in which it had been his misfortune to differ from him. Pursuant to the royal plea
* Aikin's Life of Selden, p. 37.
sure, he therefore published three tracts, “ Of the Nunber 666 in the Revelations ;" “ Of Calvin's Judgment on the Book of Revelations ;” and “ Of the Birth-day of our Saviour;” upon all of which subjects he had the discretion to perceive the error of his former opinions. In the mystic number he found new and more recondite meanings ; in the Judgment of Calvin he no longer discovered the good sense and the modesty which had formerly distinguished it; and in Christmas-day he saw the actual return of the anniversary which he had formerly had the temerity to doubt. It is a painful spectacle to see learning and genius thus made the tools of oppression and terror.
But the period was now fast approaching when Selden was about to act a more noble and manly part. An important change in the state of society, and in the general condition of the people, had taken place, which at this time was beginning to render itself visible in the transactions between the crown and the parliament. In the year 1621 the commons assumed a tone, to which, however unpleasant it might sound in the royal ears, their constitutional station in the country entitled them. They complained in bold and decided terms of the grievances under which the nation laboured ; and, notwithstanding the strong expression of the royal displeasure, they persisted in exercising this their great constitutional privilege. At length the king, moved to anger by the patriotic obstinacy of the commons, ventured to threaten them in language unbecoming the sovereign of a limited monarchy, asserting, that all their privileges were derived from himself and his ancestors, and hinting that their very existence depended upon his pleasure. Indignant at this assumption of absolute power, the house immediately took measures to vindicate their rights; and, in the course of the enquiries instituted with regard to the nature and extent of their privileges, they consulted Selden, though not at that time a member of the house, who entered into a long and learned dissertation on the subject, in which he took occasion to enlarge upon some
of the more prominent grievances of the times. In pursuance of the advice thus given, the house resolved to resist the aggressions of the prerogative; but such was the indignation of the court at these proceedings, that Seld n, together with Sir Edward Sandys, a very active member of the country party, was committed to the custody of the sheriffs of London. His imprisonment, however, was far from being rigorous; and, after a few weeks' confinement, he was set at liberty. It appears that his release was procured at the intercession of Bishop Williams, who represented his case favourably to the Marquis of Buckingham. *
About this period Selden composed, by the order of the house of lords, a tract entitled The Privilege of the Baronage, first printed in the year 1642; and about the same time he wrote the tract on The Judicature of Parliament; a work of inferior reputation, and by some persons supposed to have been composed by Sir Simon D'Ewes. It was not printed until the year 1681. In the year 1623, Selden edited the historical work of Eadmer, an early chronicler, and appended to it a number of learned notes.
In the same year, Selden entered for the first time into public life, and in the parliament which was summoned in February, 1623-4, appeared as one of the representatives for the borough of Lancaster, and in the parliament which assembled after the death of James I. he was returned for Great Bedwin. In both of these assemblies Selden ranged himself on the popular side, and conducted himself with a courage and decision which could scarcely have been expected from a man who had yielded without a struggle to the frowns of James I. But the hearts even of the weak and timid are animated into resolution and bravery by the presence and example of the resolute and the brave; and in the society of Coke and Hollis and Ellyot, Selden ventured to act the part of an intrepid man and good citizen. The
* See the Appendix to the Proceedings and Debates of the Commons in 1620, vol. ii.