Page images
PDF
EPUB

details of his conduct connected with the proceedings of parliament are matter of history, and do not require repetition in this place. It is sufficient to state, that in all the great constitutional debates of that stormy period he took an active and prominent part, and that he does not appear on any occasion to have shrunk from the performance of his weighty and dangerous duty. [Note 14.] On the dissolution of the parliament in 1628, Selden reaped the fruits of his patriotic exertions, and in company with Hollis, Ellyot, Stroud, and other eminent members of the commons, was committed under warrants from the council and the king to the Tower.

The history of the imprisoned members is well known. After a long, and for some time a very rigorous confinement, they were brought before the king's bench to be bailed, when the question of the legality of their imprisonment was raised, and decided against them by a suborned bench. Upon a second application to the court, the judges, who had, without doubt, received their instructions from the court, offered to admit them to bail provided they gave sureties in large sums for their future good behaviour. This proffer being rejected, the prisoners were remanded, and a similar proposal made soon afterwards met with a similar fate. * Upon this occasion Selden was instructed to speak for the rest ; and on the refusal to find sureties, all the prisoners were remanded. At length various circumstances concurred to induce the court to relax its severity, and Selden, on application, was transferred by habeas corpus to the Marshalsea, and subsequently to the Gatehouse, where he was detained until May, 1630, in a confinement little more than nominal, boing even permitted to visit his friend the Earl of Kent at his country seat. On these circumstances coming to the knowledge of the judges, and there being an irregularity in his removal to the Gatehouse, he was remanded to his former custody in the Marshalsea; but ultimately, at the intercession of several noblemen

• State Trials, vol.iii. pp. 235. 264.

who were desirous of availing themselves of his great professional services, he was released upon bail.

It is probable that the atmosphere of the Tower and of the Marshalsea produced a considerable effect on the political constitution of Selden, for on his liberation he seems to have recurred with zeal to the more tranquil pursuits of the scholar. Even during the active engagements of his parliamentary life he had not altogether lost sight of the studies so congenial to his disposition; and besides the composition of two short tracts, Of the Orie ginal of Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of Testaments, and Of the Disposition or Administration of Intestates' Goods, he had added greatly to his literary reputation by the publication of his history of the Arundel Marbles, under the title of Marmora Arundelliana, sive saxa Græca incisa (Note 15.], a work which excited great interest both amongst the scholars of England and of the Continent. During his confinement in the Marshalsea, Selden had employed himself upon a work of Hebrew antiquities, which in 1631 was published under the title of De Suce cessionibus in bona defuncti ad leges Ebræorum, and of which a second edition was published in 1636, with a treatise De Successione in pontificatum Ebræorum. Both of these treatises were dedicated to Archbishop Laud; a circumstance from which we may infer that the fervour of the author's political feelings had suffered some abatement. These learned performances were re-edited at Leyden in 1638, with additions by the author, and again at Frankfort in 1673.

In the year 1636 appeared the Mare Clausum, one of the most celebrated of the many learned works which Selden produced. It is probable that it was originally intended as an answer to the Mare Liberum of Grotius; but it is in fact a full history and exposition of the right claimed by the English to the sovereignty of the seas. This work had been composed many years, and so early as the year 1618 it was submitted, in MS., to James I. On the occurrence of the disputes with the Dutch in 1635, the treatise attracted the attention of Charles I., by whose order it was committed to the press. It was dedicated to the king; and such was the satisfaction with which the work was regarded at court, that copies of it were ordered to be preserved in the council-chest, in the court of exchequer, and in the court of admiralty. In 1652 the Mare Clausum was translated into English by Marchmont Needham, and another translation appeared by J. H., probably James Howell, which is said by Mr. Butler to be the better version. *

On the assembling of the long parliament in 1640 Selden again appeared in public life, as one of the representatives of the university of Oxford. From the circumstance of his having been returned by that learned body, it is probable, that, notwithstanding the course which he had adopted when he formerly sat in the commons, he was considered upon the whole as not disaffected to the royal cause. However, during the stormy period which preceded the breaking forth of the civil war, Selden does not appear to have swerved from the line of conduct which he had on former occasions pursued. He sat and acted on the committee for enquiring into the arbitrary proceedings of the earl marshal's court, and on the committee for preparing the remonstrance on the state of the nation. He was joined in all the proceedings preparatory to the impeachment of the Earl of Strafford, though his name does not appear as one of the members appointed to manage the evidence at the trial ; and as he opposed the mode of proceeding against that nobleman by a bill of attainder t, he was ranked at this time by the populace as one of the “enemies of justice." He was on the committee appointed to examine into the unconstitutional decision of the court of exchequer-chamber on the subject of shipmoney ; but when the question of the abolition of episcopacy was brought before the house, he ranked himself amongst the friends of the church of England. In the year 1641 Selden was appointed, probably in violation of his private feelings, a member of the committee to prepare articles of impeachment against Archbishop Laud. * Notes to Coke's Litt. 261. a. + State Trials, vol. iii. p. 1469.

The part which Selden had taken in the argument for the abolition of episcopacy, to which his education and principles inclined him, had doubtless the effect of creating a favourable disposition towards him on the part of the court, insomuch that, upon the displacing of Littleton, who held the great seal, a serious design was entertained of conferring it upon Selden. It does not appear that the offer was actually made, since Lord Falkland and Sir Edward Hyde persuaded the king, that it would be in vain. Clarendon tells us, that “the Lord Falkland and himself, to whom his majesty referred the consideration of a proper person for it (the custody of the seal), did not doubt of Mr. Selden's affection for the king ; but withal they knew him so well, that they concluded he would absolutely refuse the place if it were offered to him. He was in years, and of a tender constitution; he had for many years enjoyed his ease which he loved; he was rich, and would not have made a journey to York, or have lain out of his bed, for any preferment, which he had never affected.”* However Selden may have been led by the timidity of his nature to make terms with power, it is obvious, from the opinion thus expressed by one who knew him well, that he was not esteemed to be a man who could be induced, by the prospect of honours and preferment, to abandon even his ease, much less his integrity.

The affairs of the kingdom were now fast tending to a crisis ; and Selden, with the more moderate men of both parties, witnessed with dismay the approaching appeal to arms. On the one hand, the parliament appointed their lieutenants in the different counties; while, on the other, the king issued his commissions of array. Against the latter proceeding, as a dangerous and unconstitutional measure, Selden spoke with much earnestness in his place in parliament; and such was the respect with which his opinion was universally regarded, that his speech had a decided influence upon the manner in which the measure was received by the country at large. * Clarendon, Hist. Rebell., vol. ii. p. 497. ed. 1826.

The king was much disturbed with the violent opposition which the commissions of array met with from one whom he had been taught to regard as not altogether adverse to his cause; and with the royal permission Lord Falkland addressed to Selden a letter, in which he enquired into the grounds of such a determined opposition. Selden replied by recapitulating shortly the arguments which he had made use of in the house, and added a similar opinion against the legality of the ordinance of parliament for the appointment of lieutenants. * That opinion he took occasion to express in his place; but the assembly that had listened so willingly to the learned arguments against the measures of the court paid little regard to the same authorities when urged against their own irregular courses.

The moderate part taken by Selden on this and other occasions appears to have excited the suspicions of the more violent portion of the parliamentary party, for, in the year 1643, on the discovery of Waller's plot, that person was interrogated by the house as to the supposed participation of Selden, Whitelocke, and Pierpoint in the conspiracy. This he strenuously denied, saying, “ that he did come one evening to Selden's study, where Pierpoint and Whitelocke then were with Selden, on purpose to impart it to them all ; and speaking of such a thing in general terms, these gentlemen did so inveigh against any such thing, as treachery and baseness, and that which might be the occasion of shedding much blood, that he durst not, for the respect he had for Selden and the rest, communicate any of the particulars to them, but was almost disheartened himself to proceed in it.”+ With this explanation the house were satisfied. In common with the other members who adhered to the party of the parliament, Selden subscribed the solemn league and covenant in 1644. A few months previous to this, the office of keeper of the records in the Tower had been conferred upon him by a vote of the house.

Hist, of Rebell., vol. iji. p. 91. ed. 1826. + Whitelocke's Mem., p. 6,

« PreviousContinue »