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hear attornies and young counsel that came to move there about matters of form and practice. His lordship had a younger brother (Hon. Roger North), who was of the profession of the law: he was newly called to the bar, and had little to do in the king's bench; but the attornies of the common pleas often retained him to move for them in the treasury such matters as were proper there, and what they might have moved themselves. But, however agreeable this kind of practice was to a noviciate, it was not worthy the observation it had, for once or twice a week was the utmost calculate of these motions. But the serjeants thought that method was or might become preju. dicial to them, who had a monopoly of the bar, and would have no water go by their mill, and supposed it was high time to put a stop to such beginnings, for fear it might grow worse. But the doubt was, how they should signify their resentment so as to be effectually remedied. · At length they agreed for one day to make no motions at all, and opportunity would fall for showing the reason how the court came to have no business. When the court (on this dumb day, as it was called) was sat, the chief justice gave the usual signal to the eldest serjeant to move. He bowed, and had nothing to move; so the next, and the next from end to end of the bar. The chief, seeing this, said, “Brothers, I think we must rise, here is no business.” Then an attorney steps forwards, and called to a serjeant to make a motion, and after that turned to the court and said, that he had given the serjeant his fee and instructions over-night to move for him, and desired he might do so. The chief looked about, and asked what was the matter? An attorney that stood by, very modestly said, that he feared the serjeants took it ill that motions were made in the treasury. Then the chief scented the whole matter: and, brothers,' said he, 'I think a very great affront is offered to us, which we ought for the dignity of the court to resent. But that we may do nothing too suddenly, but take consideration at full leisure and maturely, let us now rise, and to-morrow morning give order as becomes us. And do you, attornies, come all here tomorrow, and care shall be taken for your despatch ; and rather than fail, we will hear you or your clients, or the barristers at law, or any person that thinks fit to appear in business, that the law may have its course; and so the court rose. This was like thunder to the serjeants, and they fell to quarrelling one with another about being the cause of this great evil they had brought upon themselves.; for none of them imagined it would have had such a turn as this was, that shaked what was the palladium of the coif, the sole practice there. In the afternoon they attended the chief and the other judges of the court, and in great humility owned their fault, and begged pardon, and that no farther notice might be taken of it, and they would be careful not to give the like offence for the future. The chief told them that the affront was in public and in the face of the court, and they must make their recognitions there next morning, and in such a manner as the greatness of their offence demanded, and then they should hear what the court would say to them. Accordingly they did; and the chief first, and then the rest in order, gave them a formal chiding with acrimony enough; all which with dejected countenances they were bound to hear. When this discipline was over, the chief pointed to one to move, and which he did (as they said) more like one crying than speaking; and so ended the comedy as it was acted in Westminster hall, called the Dumb Day.”
The conduct of Sir Francis North while upon the bench was in many points worthy of great commend ation. Like Sir Matthew Hale, he applied himself to the reformation of the abuses which existed in the law; his mode being to note down the point which appeared to require amendment; and afterwards, when at leisure, to reduce his observations into such a form that an act of parliament might be founded on them. It is supposed by his biographer, that the first idea of the statute of frauds proceeded from him ; and he also asserts, that several other alterations, which afterwards passed into laws, arose from his suggestions. [Note 39.] Another
proposal of the chief justice was a general register for lands; a scheme upon which “ he worked sincerely." He had proceeded so far in these proposed amendments as to prepare several draughts of bills, which, after his death, were found amongst his papers. In presiding at the trial of causes the chief justice exerted himself to confine the counsel to the point in question, and to cut down that redundancy of speech, which, he used to observe, “ disturbed the order of his thoughts.” “ He was,” says his biographer, “ very good at waylaying the craft of counsel ; for he, as they say, had been in the oven himself, and knew where to look for the pasty.” Upon one difficult occasion his conduct on the bench was entitled to the highest commendation. « At Taune ton Dean,” says Roger North,“ he was forced to try an old man for a wizard; and for the curiosity of observing the state of a male witch or wizard, I attended in the court, and sat near where the poor man stood. The evidence against him was, the having bewitched a girl of about thirteen years old : for she had strange and unaccountable fits, and used to cry out upon him and spit out of her mouth straight pins; and whenever the man was brought near her, she fell in her fits, and spit forth straight pins. His lordship wondered at the straight pins, which could not be so well couched in the mouth as crooked ones ; for such only used to be spit out by people bewitched. He examined the witnesses very tenderly and carefully, and so as none could collect what his opinion was ; for he was fearful of the jurymen’s precipitancy, if he gave them any offence. When the poor man was told he must answer for himself, he entered upon a defence as orderly and well expressed as I ever heard spoke by any man, counsel or other; and if the attorney-general had been his advocate, I am sure he could not have done it more sensibly. The sum of it was malice, threatening, and circumstances of imposture in the girl ; to which matters he called his witnesses, and they were heard. After this was done, the judge was not satisfied to direct the jury before the im
posture was fully declared; but studied and beat the bush
while, asking sometimes one and then another question, as he thought proper. At length he turned to the justice of peace that committed the man and took the first examinations. “And, sir,' said he, 'pray will you ingenuously declare your thoughts, if you have any, touching these straight pins which the girl spit ; for you saw her in her fit?' -'Then, my lord,' said he, I did not know that I might concern myself in this evidence, having taken the examination and committed the man. But since your lordship demands it, I must needs say, I think the girl, doubling herself in her fit as being convulsed, bent her head down close to her stomacher, and with her mouth took pins out of the edge of that, and then, righting herself a little, spit them into some bystander's hands.' This cast an universal satisfaction upon the minds of the whole audience, and the man was acquitted. As the judge went down stairs out of the court, a hideous old woman cried, God bless your lordship!'— What's the matter, good woman?' said the judge. —'My lord,' said she, ‘forty years ago, they would have hanged me for a witch, and they could not, and now they would have hanged my poor son !'”
On the trial of Colledge * for high treason, the conduct of North, who presided as one of the judges, has been the subject of severe and just observation. Certain papers belonging to the prisoner, and containing the heads of his defence, and suggestions relative to the proceedings, furnished to him by his legal advisers, had been forcibly taken from him, previously to his coming into court. He applied with great earnestness for their restoration ; but the court, having perused them, denied the request, on the frivolous and ridiculous ground that they contained matter scandalous to the government. Colledge, therefore, was only permitted to have the use of such portions of the documents as the judges were pleased to consider unexceptionable. His assertions, that without the assistance of his instructions he should not be en
* State Trials, vol, viii. p. 549.
abled to conduct his defence, were met by a pertinent answer from Sir Francis North — that the judges were his counsel. A maxim which is, indeed, admirably illus. trated by the trial in question.
Upon the experiment, made under the auspices of Sir William Temple, of a Whig administration, Sir Francis North was constituted a member of the privy council. A government formed so entirely in opposition to the king's dearest prejudices had little chance of stability; nor was it probable that the chief justice would act cordially with Shaftesbury, and Essex, and Russell. But the time was now approaching when he was to assume a still higher station.
The health of the Lord Keeper Finch having given way, the business of the cabinet which usually came before him was for the most part performed by Sir Francis North, who thus, in case of Finch's death, seemed evidently pointed out as his successor. When that event took place, he received an intimation, as his biographer supposes, from Lord Rochester, the lord treasurer, that the seals were within his grasp. The object of this hint is supposed to have been to induce the chief justice to prefer a petition for the vacant woolsack, that so the seals might be offered to him with a better grace, without the addition of a pension. But Sir Francis was not easily misled. He clearly foresaw that the office must be tendered to him, and he fully resolved not to accept it without such a pension as should enable him to support the dignity in such a manner as he deemed suitable. Rochester and he now endeavoured to outwit one another; but the chief justice was not « a chicken that would peck at shadows ;” and ultimately the king placed the seal in his hands, with this warning sentence:-“ Here, my lord take it; you will find it heavy !” To this appointment was added a pension of 20001. a year. It is curious to observe what were the feelings of Sir Francis North after receiving the highest reward which his profession could confer.