« PreviousContinue »
BORN A. D. 1640.-DIED A. D. 1685.
Francis North, afterwards Baron Guilford, and lord-keeper of the great seal, was the second son of Dudley, Lord North. His earliest education was received under a Presbyterian schoolmaster. He was then removed to Bury school under the superintendence of a cavalier master,' and in 1653 became a fellow-commoner of St John's college, Cambridge. Being destined for the bar, he was admitted of the Middle Temple in 1665. Here he studied with great diligence, and on being called to the bar was much noticed and encouraged by the attorney-general Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who often employed him to search authorities for him. He made his first public appearance in arguing the writ of error brought on the conviction of Hollis and the other five members. The talent which he displayed on this occasion procured for him the rank of king's counsel on the recommendation of the duke of York. His practice now rapidly increased; and, on the 23d of May, 1671, he was appointed solicitor-general on the elevation of Sir Edward Turner, and, according to custom, received the honour of knighthood. While he held this office he was returned to parliament as member for Lynn; and on the promotion of Sir Heneage Finch to the woolsack, Sir Francis succeeded him as attorney-general. Practice now “ flowed upon him like an orage, enough to overset one that had not extraordinary readiness in business." Yet with all his professional engagements, he found time for more liberal studies, and acquired considerable knowledge of the modern languages.
On the death of Sir John Vaughan, chief-justice of the common pleas, Sir Francis North was promoted to the vacant dignity. He now applied himself to the reformation of the abuses which existed in the practice of that court, and had a principal hand in framing the famous statute of frauds and perjuries, of which Lord Nottingham is reported to have said that every line was worth a subsidy. “ He was,” says his admiring biographer and younger brother, Roger North, “ 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." On the formation of the Whig administration under Sir William Temple, Sir Francis was constituted a member of the privy council. On the death of Lordkeeper Finch, Sir Francis, after some dallying with Rochester, received the seal from the hand of the king himself, with this warning, “ Here, my lord, take it ; you will find it heavy !” “ The evening that we spent 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 bouse. His lordship, by despatching these incumbrances, got himself clear as fast as he could, and then I alone staid with him. He took a turn or two in his dining-room and said nothing, by which I perceived his spirits were very much soiled; therefore I kept silence also, expecting what would follow. There was no need of asking 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 be, that may give them cause to think me of so poor a spirit as to be thus terrified with ?' And so on with 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."
In the court of chancery the lord-keeper pursued his general reforms, and experienced the usual opposition which has always attended all attempts to “purge out the peccant humours” of that court. The accession of Sunderland, Godolphin, and Jefferies, to the cabinet, placed the lord-keeper in a painful position ; but he had the fortitude to adhere to his principles as a protestant, and, though he stood single in his opposition, stoutly resisted the motion made by Jefferies for a general pardon to the imprisoned recusants. The death of Charles, and the accession of James II., exposed his principles to a still severer test; and his constitutional opposition to sundry measures proposed by Jefferies, soon rendered him highly obnoxious to the court. At the opening of the new parliament he was not even consulted as to the substance of the king's speech, much less entrusted, as had been the custom hitherto, with the drawing up of it; his decrees in court were “most brutishly and effrontuously arraigued;" at court and at council “ nothing squared with his schemes ;” and he was by “Sunderland, Jefferies, and their complices, little less than derided." Treatment so unmerited and from such personages gradually wrought upon his mind, till he fell into a deep and settled melancholy.“ His feverish disease,” says his affectionate biographer, “growing upon him, his spirits, and all that should buoy a man up under oppression, not only failed, but other things of a malign complexion succeeded to bring him lower : which may be fully understood by this circumstance. He took a fancy that he looked out of countenance, as he termed it; that is, as one ashamed, or as if he had done ill, and not with that face of authority as he used to bear; and for that reason, when he went into Westminster-hall, in the summer term; he used to take nosegays of flowers to hold before his face, that people might not discern his dejection; and once in private having told me this fancy, he asked me if I did not perceive it. I answered him, not in the least, nor did I believe any one else did observe any such thing ; but that he was not well in health as he used to be was plain enough. His lordship in this state took a resolution to quit the great seal, and went to my Lord Rochester to intercede with his majesty to accept it, which had been no hard matter to obtain. But that noble lord had no mind to part with such a screen, and at that time (as he told me hiniself) he divenced him. But his lordship persisted, as will be made appear afterwards, by a letter. Whereupon the lord Rochester obtained of the king that his lordship might retire with the seal into the country ; and that the officers with their concerns should attend him there, in hopes that by the use of the waters and fresh air, he might recover his health against next winter, when it was hoped he would return perfectly recovered. This was indeed a royal condescension and singular favour to him.” The spot chosen for Sir Francis's retirement was Wroxton in Oxfordshire ; but the hopes of a recovery were vain ; the powers of nature rapidly gave way, and on the 5th of September, 1685, he breathed his last. His life has been written with all the amiable partiality of affection by his younger brother ; but justice compels us to estimate his public character many degrees lower than his biographer has done. Lord-keeper Guilford had few elements of real greatness in his character. He was an honest man compared with many around him, but he did not altogether escape the political corruption of the age in which he lived. He was indebted for his elevation to the possession of a sound discretion rather than to any eminence of talents. As a lawyer he was respectable, but did not occupy the foremost rank. In private life his character was amiable, and well-fitted to endear him to his family and friends.
Cooper, Garl of Shaftesbury.
BORN A. D. 1621.-DIED A. D. 1683.
This celebrated statesman was the son of Sir John Cooper of Rockburn, Hants, and Anne, daughter of Sir Anthony Ashley of Winborne, St Giles, in the county of Dorset. He was born at the house of his maternal grandfather, on the 22d of July, 1621. At the age of fifteen he was entered of Exeter college, Oxford, where he distinguished himself by the frequent display of high powers, and by constant assiduity in study. From college he removed to Lincoln's inn, where he chiefly devoted himself to constitutional law and English history. In the parliament which met in April, 1640, he sat as representative for Tewkesbury, though only nineteen years of age.
On the breaking out of the civil war he manifested a decided inclination to adhere to the king's party, but his views were of too moderate and compromising a cast for Charles at this period, and although he was subsequently invited to Oxford, and went thither, yet he found himself distrusted by the court, and soon after retired in disgust.
Clarendon says that he immediately “gave himself up, body and soul,” to the popular party. Without attaching much value to such testimony, from such a quarter, we are compelled to allow that young Cooper passed from the one party to the other with more facility than was altogether consistent with political integrity ; personal resentment, rather than any conscientious change of sentiment, seems to have dictated his conduct in the present instance, but Clarendon stoops to the part of a defamer when he avers that from the moment of his making common cause with the parliament, he “ became an implacable enemy to the royal family.” On the contrary, he had a considerable part in bringing about the private negotiation between Charles and Lord Hollis, on the occasion of the treaty of Uxbridge ; and it is said that the insurrection of the club-men was a contrivance of his to check the power which, after the battle of Naseby, was assumed by the leaders of the army. In 1646 he was appointed sheriff of Wilts. On the breaking up of the long parliament, Sir Anthony was one of the members of the convention which succeeded it. Cromwell had marked the talents and knew the influence of the young man, and did his best to attach him to his party, but failed. In 1654, we find Sir Anthony signing the famous protestation against the tyranny and arbitrary measures of the protector; yet he retained a seat in the privy-council while opposing the head of the government.
After the deposition of Richard Cromwell, Sir Anthony was named one of the council of state, and a commissioner of the army; but he had now chosen his part with Monk, and was actively engaged in concerting those measures which led to the Restoration. He was one of the twelve members who carried the invitation to Charles II.; and on the arrival of the king in England, he was appointed a member of the privy-council. It would have been well for his political memory that he had declined the office which was soon afterwards conferred on hiin, of a commissioner in the trial of the regicides. He accepted it, perhaps, with reluctance, and it is certain that he evinced no rancour towards the unfortunate objects of his sovereign's hatred; but he ought at once peremptorily to have declined the task of sitting in judgment upon men for offences in which he was not altogether guiltless of participation.
On the 20th of April, 1661, Sir Anthony was created Baron Ashley of Winborne, St Giles ; soon after, he was made chancellor and under-treasurer of the exchequer, and one of the lords commissioners for executing the office of high-treasurer. He was now a leading member of the famous cabal ministry; and it is really doubtful whether or not he was the spirit which actuated that infamous association in some of its worst plots against the liberties and constitution of the country. The testimony on this point is conflicting and very puzzling ; and his public conduct at this period is not a little enigmatical. For example, we find him promoting the declaration for liberty of conscience, and uttering many very just and manly sentiments on the subject of religious toleration. We know also that Charles hesitated to entrust him with the secret of his disgraceful treaty with the French king; but then, on the other hand, we find him strongly charged with having originated the plan for shutting up the exchequer, and with issuing writs for the election of members of parliament during a recess. We know, also, that he strenuously supported the unjust and ruinous war with Holland.
In 1672 he was created Baron Cooper of Pawlet, in Somerset, and earl of Shaftesbury; and in the following November, he was named lord-high-chancellor. His conduct on the bench was able, impartial, and resolute ; but it failed to satisfy the court. It approximated too much to political independence. The duke of York became restless for the dismissal of a man whose principles he dreaded; and Shaftesbury, before he had been much more than a year in office, saw the seals pass from his hands to those of a much less considerable, but more pliant man, Sir Heneage Finch.
Shaftesbury now became one of the most active and powerful leaders of the opposition. We are not prepared to vindicate the facility with which he passed from the extreme side of the state of one party to the extreme side of the other; on the contrary, we admit the charge, that he was both a factious and an interested man; but we maintain that the principles to which he now gave his support were sound and constitutional ; and that when with Buckingham he was committed to the Tower for the boldness with which they maintained that a prorogation of fifteen months amounted to a dissolution of parliament, he, and his associate lords were entitled to the respect and gratitude of every lover of his country's liberty. He has been charged with the contrivance of the popish plot in 1678, for the purpose of embarrassing the ministry. It is difficult to determine what was the nature of his connexion with that extraordinary piece of political knavery; but it is certain that he made a very able use of the occurrence to force out Danby's administration, and compel the king once more to replace him at the head of affairs. On the 21st of April, 1679, Shaftesbury was appointed lordpresident of the new privy-council ; but he remained in office only four months. The duke of York laboured to displace a minister whose en-deavours to promote a bill for his exclusion from the succession he knew to have been unremitting ; and he soon carried his point with his weak and infatuated brother. On his dismissal from office, he was charged by some of the duke's creatures with subornation of perjury, and was tried for that offence, but acquitted by his jury. Soon after this Dryden's severe satire of Absalom and Achitophel appeared, in which the fallen minister was very roughly treated. The earl fully felt the poet's lash, but nevertheless acted most generously towards his satirist. Having the nomination to a scholarship as governor of the charter house, he gave it to one of the poet's sons, without any
solicitation. This act of generosity melted Dryden, and in the next edition of the poem, he added the four following lines in praise of the earl's conduct as lord-chancellor.
“In Israel's court ne'er sat an Abethdin
With more discerning eyes or hands more clean,
Shaftesbury, now thoroughly disgusted with political life, resolved to bid a final adieu to the scene of his alternate triumphs and disappointments, and to every thing which could tempt him once more to descend into the arena of party-strife. With this view, he arranged his affairs in England, and embarked in November, 1682, for Holland, where he purposed to spend the remainder of his days in complete retirement. He arrived in Amsterdam, and had just completed an establishment suitable to his rank in that city, when he was attacked by gout in the stomach, which terminated his existence on the 22d of January, 1683.