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connected with his profession, must assist in freeing his mind from the narrowing influence of legal technicalities, so subtle in its encroachment, and nowhere so injurious as on the mind of the Chancellor.
When tracing in history the successive pre-eminence of the advocates of the most opposite views, our nation still steadily advancing in its proud career of power, wealth, knowledge and virtue, one cannot but smile to recall the gloomy prophecies of our speedy ruin, as the inevitable result of some act or neglect, ever from time to time uttered by the defeated party. Perhaps no occasion of this was more singular than when the Duke of Richmond wrote to Burke, only shortly before the French Revolution, that, now despairing of his country, he should retire to his property and title in France, as the only place of safety. The long active public careers of most of our Chancellors most readily suggest these thoughts. The shortness of their pre-eminence, and how remarkably most of them raised themselves to it by their own talents, also invest their lives with a peculiar interest. We insert a short Table of the career of the Chancellors since the Revolution, the most settled portion of our History.
A Table of the Chancellors since the Revolution.
The high character of most of our Chancellors, and the evidence in the career of several of them, that men of high character when possessed of talent may raise themselves from the lowest to the highest ranks, speak loudly in praise of the spirit of our Nation and Constitution.
To proceed with our author. The Statesman to whom William, at his accession, committed the Great Seal, was Serjeant Maynard Singular had been his career. He was the Talleyrand of our Revolution. He was born under the last of the Tudors. He sat in Parliament under every subsequent ruler, including Cromwell, and was now, in his 88th year, on the accession of a fourth Dynasty, made principal Commissioner of the Great Seal. In 1628 he supported the Petition of Right. He was a manager at the impeachment of Strafford and Laud. He subscribed the solemn League and Covenant as a Presbyterian, and he was a lay Member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. He was never expelled from the House, but he was once impeached for Treason; and in 1648 he opposed the Resolution not to address the King. He, however, became one of Cromwell's Serjeants; but having afterwards applied for a Habeas Corpus in opposition to Cromwell, he was sent to the Tower; submitting shortly after, he swore allegiance to Richard Cromwell. Yet he at once joined in recalling Charles, and was knighted at the Restoration; and he assisted in the prosecution of Vane for having, like himself, acted under Cromwell. However, he opposed Charles' dispensing power, and supported the Bill of Exclusion. In 1685 he opposed the Bill to make words treason, and the supply for a standing army; and in 1688 he supported the Commons against the Lords in their declaration that James had “abdicated.”
Maynard had evidently none of the temper of a martyr, but was a time-server; yet a right spirit may be observed in him, throughout his whole career. He held the Seal rather more than a year, and he died within six months afterwards, at the age of eighty-eight. He supported the Bill for disarming the Papists, and he opposed the Bill making Mary Regent during William's absence in Ireland.
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guilty of injustice, his conduct was in general sound. He manfully upheld the rights of juries, and was decidedly a fine old lawyer. Among his speeches may be mentioned as a curiosity, that on a Bill to prevent further Building in London. “This enlarging of London," said he, “makes it filled with lacqueys and pages. In St. Giles's parish scarce the fifth part can come to Church, and we shall have no religion at last.” When introduced to William, the King observed to him, that he must have outlived all the lawyers of his time. Maynard smartly replied, “ If your Highness had not come over to our aid, I should have outlived the law itself.” He had not outlived his courtly wit.
Maynard's successor was a complete contrast. Sir John Trevor, with a bad Welch accent, and bad cast in his eye, the son of a poor Welch gentleman, and brought up at a village school, had been noted only as the advocate of unlimited prerogative. He was brought to London when a youth, by a cousin who was a barrister, and who employed him as clerk, and his chief associates were gamesters. Having, however, great ambition, and having reached the Bar, he was patronized by Jeffreys, who was his cousin, and he became King's Counsel and M.P., in 1678. Here is a specimen of his language on Prerogative: “ The disciples came to our Saviour in the ship, and said, 'Lord, save us, or we perish!' and we say no more to the King." He assisted in the prosecution of Lord Stafford, and was Speaker in James's only Parliament. When Jeffreys became Chancellor, Trevor was appointed to the Rolls. But he now aimed at supplanting Jeffreys, and quarrelled with him. In July 1688, he became a Privy Councillor, and he attended James's levee after his flight to Rochester. On William's accession, Trevor was removed from the Rolls, and in Parliament he opposed Reform. This sketch of his career makes his subsequent advancement rather inexplicable.
On the meeting of the New Parliament, Trevor made advances to the Court, and undertook to bring over the Tories with him, if he was made Speaker, and furnished with the necessary funds, and the bargain was concluded. He acted up to his agreement; and on Maynard's resigna. tion he was made Chief Commissioner of the Seal, and in
three years, on the death of his successor at the Rolls, he was restored to it. But his duties as Speaker of the House of Commons, being inconsistent with presiding in the Lords, (the usual office of the Holder of the Seal, the Seal was now transferred to other hands. Trevor's want of character, however, soon betrayed him. He could not see why he should not be fee-ed by others besides the Court; and in 1695, he was accused and convicted of having received a bribe of 1,000 guineas from the City of London, to support the Orphans' Bill; and he was expelled from the House. This was not deemed any reason for removing him from the Rolls, and he continued to sit there, while the Seal changed bands five times; and for the long period of twenty-two years, and in his Court, he appears to have been a good and upright judge.
We now come to one every way worthy of his high position, and his merits were shortly recognised in a grant of the full title of Chancellor, and a peerage. Lord Somers was of an old family possessed of the estate of the dissolved nunnery of “ The White Ladies," near Worcester. Queen Elizabeth lodged there on her progress in 1585; and there was Charles received previous to the fatal fight of Worcester : his fine fringed gloves and other relics remain as records of his hasty flight. Somers' father, however, was only a country attorney, and the son was placed at his father's desk as his intended humble successor. But Solicitor-General Winnington observing young Somers' merit, persuaded him to study for the Bar; and so he read in London, and at Oxford, and was called to the Bar in 1676. He was then twenty-four, and a thorough master of Civil Law, language, and general literature. He had formed a friendship with the gay young Earl of Shrewsbury, which was continued through life, and by him he was for a time led astray. He did not practise till his father's death; but he at once took an active part in politics. He supported Russell and Shaftesbury, and wrote a pamphlet in support of Grand Juries, when the Bill against Shaftesbury was ignored, and he wrote another pamphlet in support of the Exclusion Bill. When Somers did commence practice, he had rapid success. On the arraignment of the Seven Bishops, he was at once proposed as Counsel. The Bishops gave a reluc
tant assent. Somers' noted liberal views were utterly distasteful to their passive obedience notions, which they had been most unwillingly forced to forego. To Somers' speech was their acquittal considered principally due.
At the Revolution Somers became a Member of the Convention Parliament. He drew the memorable Resolutions, and was a principal Manager of the Free Conference with the Lords. It was his Committee upon whose Report the Declaration and Bill of Rights were founded ; and the provisions for freedom of Protestant worship, omitted by Parliament in these latter, are found in Somers' original Report. In the discussion on the Coronation Oath, Somers supported Hampden's proposal that it should be worded, not “to maintain the Protestant Religion, as established by law;" but “ as it may be established according to the laws for the time being." This was negatived by 188 to 149. Had it been carried, how much pain might have been saved to future royal consciences, and of how much power of obstruction would bigotry have been deprived !
Somers was at once appointed Solicitor-General. In his conduct of the trial of Lord Preston, so great was the contrast with the proceedings on the trial of the Bishops, that it was difficult to believe they had taken place within three years of one another. In 1692 Somers was appointed Attorney-General, and in another year he received the Great Seal as Lord Keeper, and this he held seven years. One of the most important cases he had to decide was whether the Bankers had any remedy, who had been robbed to the amount of a million and a half by Charles' illegally closing the Exchequer. He himself spent hundreds of pounds in collecting books, as authorities. He decided against the Bankers. A compromise was afterwards effected.
In Parliament we find Somers preventing the renewal of the Licensing act, and supporting the Bill to permit those accused of treason to have a copy of the Indictment, a list of the Jury and Witnesses, and to have Counsel ; and he promoted the re-coinage. But he did not allow himself to be led into the toils of the Tories with their insidious measures of apparent liberality. He advised the King to veto the Place Bill, which, excluding the Ministers from