Page images

not above £500 per annum; six children unprovided for; and a debt of £1000 lying upon me." Notwithstanding, however, of these and other objections, he was soon afterwards appointed lord-chief-baron. Clarendon, on delivering the commission, told him, "that if the king could have found an honester and fitter man for that employment, he would not have advanced him to it; but that he had preferred him because he knew no other who deserved it so well." It was usual for all chief barons to receive the honour of knighthood, but Hale studiously shunned the customary honour, and it was only upon meeting the king at the house of the chancellor, by an arrangement of which he was unconscious, that he was unexpectedly knighted.

Sir Matthew Hale filled the office of chief baron for eleven years, managing the court and all proceedings in it with singular prudence and justice. He was celebrated, not merely for rigid impartiality, but for diligence, punctuality, and generosity. Complaints were indeed sometimes made that he did not despatch business with sufficient speed; but his slowness in deciding arose from his anxiety to put suits to a final end, and he succeeded so well in what ought always to be the great object of a judge, that his decisions were seldom reviewed, and still less frequently reversed. In the treatment of criminals, Sir Matthew behaved with great humanity; his addresses to the condemned were so affectingly pathetic, as well as serious and devout, that many pious people used to make a point of attending trials when he sat on the bench. It is at the same time an humbling reflection, that this great and good man was so far subject to the superstitious credulity of the times, as to pass sentence of death on two old crazy wretches for the alleged crime of witchcraft.

On the 18th of May, 1671, Sir Matthew Hale was promoted to the office of chief-justice of the court of king's bench. He did not preside long, however, in this court. Finding his strength rapidly failing him, he made an earnest application for his writ of ease, but such was the general satisfaction which his conduct as chief-justice had given, that the king delayed for some time the granting of his request. At length, he executed a deed of surrender of office with his own hand, which he delivered into chancery on the 21st of February, 1675, having on the previous day, surrendered to the king in person, who, contrary to his desire, continued his salary for life. After his retirement, he suffered much from asthma and dropsy, under which complaints he finally sunk. On Christmas day, 1676, he breathed his last, without a struggle or a pang. He was interred in the churchyard of Alderly, among his an


Sir Matthew was twice married. By his first wife, Ann, daughter of Sir Henry Moore of Faly, in Berkshire, he had ten children, six of whom arrived at maturity, but two only survived him. By his second wife who was much beneath his own rank, having been, according to the Hon. Roger North, a servant in his household--he had no child.

Sir Matthew Hale was justly ranked among the brightest ornaments of his time. As a judge, his knowledge of law was profound, and his integrity stainless. Roger North says, "his voice was oracular and his person little less than adored." But the same authority insinuates

State Trials, vol. vi.


* Life of Lord Guilford,

[ocr errors]

that he was not wholly above and beyond undue influences. "If the dissenting, or anti-court, party was at the back of a cause, he was very seldom impartial, and the loyalists had always a great disadvantage before him." "I have heard Lord Guilford," North adds, "say, 'Hale's foible was leaning towards the popular.' These accusations will probably enhance the reader's estimation of this excellent judge. It was no small matter in these times to avoid leanings and inclinations the other way. Hale was always friendly and tolerant towards dissenters, and had much intercourse with their leading men, particularly with Richard Baxter. But in his own principles, he was a decided churchman, and the intimate friend of Usher, Wilkins, Ward, Barlow, Barrow, Tillot son, and Stillingfleet. "As a lawyer, and especially as a constitutional lawyer," Mr Henry Roscoe says, "Hale has perhaps never been equalled. His young rival, the lord-keeper, North, revered him for his great learning in the history, law, and records of the English constitution.' Comparing him with Sir Edward Coke, he transcended even that great luminary of the law in the accuracy and extent of his antiquarian knowledge, in his intimate acquaintance with the records, and in the orderly arrangement of the vast stores of learning which he had acquired. The respect paid to his legal opinions even in his own day was such, that when sitting as the puisne baron of the exchequer, and delivering his opinion last, at variance with that of his brothers, the latter, struck with the force of reasoning displayed in Hale's arguments, have been known to retract the opinion they had expressed. His published professional works are worthy of the high reputation which he enjoyed while living, and will for ever remain as monuments of his diligence and profound learning. To his great work on the Pleas of the Crown, reference is made, as to the records of the law themselves. His admirableAnalysis of the civil part of our law' supplied Sir William Blackstone with the idea of his Commentaries, which have been termed A superstructure raised on the foundation of Lord Hale's previous digest and distribution of the subject.' Many of the invaluable treatises and collections compiled by the industry and learning of Sir Matthew Hale still remain unpublished. At the close of the last century, the excellent treatise, De jure maris, de portubus maris, and concerning the custom of goods,' a work full of profound learning, and most important in a constitutional point of view, was published by Mr Hargrave in the first volume of his Law Tracts. That gentleman was also fortunate enough to obtain another short tract, entitled, Considerations touching the amendment of law,' which he has in the same manner given to the public. At the present moment, when the amendment of the law has not only engaged the attention of the legislature, but has become a subject of no inconsiderable interest with the people at large, it will not be unprofitable to state what were the opinions of Sir Matthew Hale as to the possibility of effectuating so important an object. After some observations on the evils arising from over-hastiness and forwardness to alterations in the laws,' he proceeds to remark upon the over-tenacious holding of laws, notwithstanding apparent necessity for, and safety in the change.' The principles which Hale here lays down, though most obvious and simple, are yet most admirable, and well deserve the attention of those legislators who can see nothing in our institutions requiring reform. 'We must remember that laws

[ocr errors]

were not made for their own sakes, but for the sake of those who are to be guided by them; and though it is true that they are and ought to be sacred, yet if they be or are become unuseful for their end, they must either be amended, if it may be, or new laws be substituted, and the old repealed, so it be done regularly, deliberately, and so far forth only as the exigence or convenience justly demands it: and in this respect the saying is true, Salus populi suprema lex esto.' * **He that thinks a state can be exactly steered by the same laws in every kind, as it was two or three hundred years ago, may as well imagine that the clothes that fitted him when a child should serve him when he was grown a man. The matter changeth, the custom, the contracts, the commerce, the dispositions, educations, and tempers of men and societies, change in a long tract of time, and so must their laws in some measure be changed, or they will not be useful for their state and condition; and besides all this, time is the wisest thing under heaven. These very laws, which at first seemed the wisest constitution under heaven, have some flaws and defects discovered in them by time. As manufactures, mercantile arts, architecture, and building, and philosophy itself, secure new advantages and discoveries by time and experience, so much more do laws which concern the manners and customs of men.'

"The multiplication and growth of the laws are urged by Hale as inducing a necessity for their revision and reduction:- By length of time and continuance, laws are so multiplied and grown to that excessive variety, that there is a necessity of a reduction of them, or otherwise it is not manageable. ✶ ✶✶ And the reason is, because this age, for the purpose, received from the last a body of laws, and they add more, and transmit the whole to the next age; and they add to what they had received, and transmit the whole stock to the next age. Thus, as the rolling of a snow-ball, it increaseth in bulk in every age till it becomes utterly unmanageable. And hence it is that, even in the laws of England, we have so many varieties of forms of conveyances, feoffments, fines, release, confirmation, grant, attornment, common recovery deeds enrolled, &c. because the use coming in at several times, every age did retain somewhat of what was past, and added somewhat of its own, and so carried over the whole product to the quotient. And this produceth mistakes: a man, perchance, useth one sort of conveyance where he should have used another. It breeds uncertainty and contradiction of opinion, and that begets suits and expense. It must necessarily cause ignorance in the professors and profession itself, because the volumes of the law are not easily to be mastered.' The mode in which Sir Matthew Hale proposed to accomplish the desired reform in our juridical system is pretty fully explained by him that the king, on the address of both houses of parliament, should direct the judges and other fit persons to prepare proper bills to effectuate the object:-that these bills should be brought into the house of commons-that after having been twice read and committed, the judges should be called before the committee to explain the reasons and grounds of the proposed alterations; and that those learned persons should again attend the house of lords for the same purpose. Bills thus prepared and hammered,' adds Sir Matthew Hale, would have fewer flaws, and necessity of supplemental or explanatory laws,

[ocr errors]

than hath of late times happened.' It is to be much regretted that the tract from which these extracts have been made is left imperfect by the author, and the particular alterations which he probably intended to recommend are consequently unknown. A few pages only are devoted to these subjects, from which, however, some valuable suggestions are to be gathered. The observations on the propriety of rendering the county court a cheap and efficient tribunal are especially worthy of notice. In the year 1796, Mr Hargrave also published the excellent treatise of Hale On the Jurisdiction of the Lords' House of Parliament,' and in the preface expressed a hope that he should be enabled to present to the public a complete edition of Lord Hale's works; a design which, unfortunately, has never been completed."

Beyond the strict limits of his own profession, Sir Matthew Hale's chief study was theology. The Rev. T. Thirwall, who has edited a selection from his moral and religious treatises, says of them, they "may be considered a species of extemporary meditations, the production of a head and heart fraught with a rich treasure of human and divine knowledge." His principal religious treatise is entitled The Primitive Origination of Mankind considered and examined according to the Light of Nature.' His Contemplations, moral and Divine,' have long been favourably known to the religious world. They are evidently unlaboured productions, closet meditations, never designed to meet the public eye; but they are vigorous sketches, significant of a mind of high and original powers.

[ocr errors]

Digby, Earl of Bristol.

BORN A. D. 1612.-DIED A.D. 1677.

George Digby, eldest son of John, first Baron Digby, was born in October, 1612, at Madrid, where his father was then English ambassador. While yet a child of only twelve years, he became an object of public attention, from the circumstance of his having presented an appeal for his father at the bar of the house of commons, with a simplicity, and grace of action and expression, which won the hearts of all the spectators. We have already had occasion to allude to the discord betwixt Buckingham and Bristol on the subject of the projected marriage of Prince Charles to the Infanta. It was the persecution to which Bristol was subjected on his return home from his Spanish embassy, that gave occasion to his appeal for redress; and that he had not over-estimated the talents of his child, when he resolved to make him the bearer of his appeal, was proved by the result.

In 1626, George Digby was entered of Magdalene college, Oxford, where he run a very splendid career, distancing all competitors, and that apparently without any great study or effort on his part. On leaving college, he joined his father, then living in a sort of honourable exile at his seat in Dorsetshire. In this retirement, young Digby appears to have given himself entirely up to study and reading; he ranged through almost every branch of literature, and made those va

Roscoe's 'Lives of Eminent British Lawyers,' in Lardner's Cyclopedia.

ried accessions of mental wealth with which he afterwards astonished all who came into contact with him. But his ambition had not yet been roused, either by a desire of personal distinction, or a sense of his father's wrongs. At last, an incident occurred which determined him to throw the whole weight of his power and influence into the scale against the court. During one of his short occasional visits to London, a rencontre occurred between himself and a gentleman of the court. He wounded and disarmed his antagonist, but the scene of their contest was unluckily within the precincts of the palace, and for this offence he was seized and treated with great personal indignity. An opportunity of revenge soon occurred, for he was elected to serve for the county of Dorset in the parliament which met on the 13th of April, 1640. During the brief space of its sitting, young Digby not only contrived to make it appear what side he meant to join, but what might be the value of the accession made in his person to the party into whose arms he had thrown himself.

Having been again returned for Dorsetshire to the long parliament, he was immediately fixed upon as the mover of a select committee to frame a remonstrance to the king on public grievances, which he did in a very splendid speech, only six days after. We cannot forbear quoting one passage from his address on this occasion :-" It hath been a metaphor frequently in parliament," said he, "and, if my memory fail me not, was made use of in the lord-keeper's speech at the opening of the last, that what money kings raised from their subjects, it was but as vapours drawn up from the earth by the sun, to be distilled upon it again in fructifying showers. The comparison, Mr Speaker, hath held of late years in this kingdom too unluckily. What hath been raised from the subject by those violent attractions, hath been formed, it is true, into clouds, but how? To darken the sun's own lustre; and hath fallen again upon the land only in hailstones and mildews, to batter and prostrate still more and more our liberties, and to blast and wither our affections; had not the latter of these been kept alive by our king's own personal virtues, which will ever preserve him, in spite of all ill-councillors, a sacred object both of our admiration and love." From this period, Digby was marked out as one of the leaders of the party now engaged in checking the influence of the court. His eloquence rendered him a most valuable and efficient auxiliary at a time when so much needed to be done in the way of invective and impeachment. The road to the very highest pinnacle of a patriot's wishes was now open to him; and the universal expectation of his friends and associates was, that he would seize the golden opportunity and fulfil their most ardent wishes. But, in the hour of trial, he was found wanting. At the very moment that the impeachment of Strafford was going forward, and while professing to take an active part in the measure adopted for bringing that notorious political profligate to justice, Digby was secretly negotiating with the crown. His overtures were, of course, eagerly grasped at, and Digby prepared to throw off the mask by continuing to act with Strafford's prosecutors, but with increasing coolness. His demeanour at length roused the suspicion of the house, and he was called upon for explanation of various points in his recent conduct; but the king interfered to extricate him from his embarrassment by calling him, on the 9th of June, 1641, to the house of peers. Digby

« PreviousContinue »