George William Johnson.

Memoirs of John Selden : and notices of the political contest during his time online

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The opponent parties in the state had now proceeded
in their dissentions to the ultimate extreme., and England
saw, it is to be hoped for the last time, those worst of
martial conflicts in which the victor knew, that, in every
fallen antagonist, there was the' occasion of sorrow and
deficiency of power to the land for whose welfare he

It is not within the purpose of this work to detail the
unnatural battles that occurred during this contest ; such
a narrative is to be found in the works of the general
historians of the period, and in the biographers of those


who mingled in the various encounters, from the fight at
Edge-hill to the battle of Naseby-field *. Selden was
too entirely of a pacific habit to afford an occasion for his
biographer to tell again the stirring incidents of even a
skirmish of outposts, but he was sufficiently identified
with other transactions of this period to render it
necessary to introduce further mention of other interesting
occurrences in this most important era of our national

The warfare was waged in other arenas than the camp,
and many of the civil events of the time indicate the
im2)lacable spirit of partisanship, as fully as when it was
enforced by the musket and sabre. It was apparent in
the impeachment of the queen for high treason.

With the energy and faithfulness of a wife, this high-
spirited woman had obtained supplies in Holland, and
other places, and, just previous to the battle of Edge-hill,
had joined her husband with three thousand foot and
thirty troops of cavalry. For these acts, which claim our
admiration, however we may disapprove the cause for
which she was so strenuous, Mr. Pyni, by an unanimous
vote of the House of Commons, in May 1643 impeached
her before the Lords, for having "levied war against the
parliament and kingdom." This proceeding, evidently
intended to terrorise the royalists, was alluded to by

* These, wliich were the first and last decisive battles in the civil
war, occurred on the 23rd of October, 1G42, and on the 14th of June,


the queen in a letter which she addressed to the
Duke of Hamilton. " You will give a share of this
good news to all our friends, if any dare own them,'
selves such, since the House of Commons have declared
me a traitor. — I know not yet what the House of Lords
have done upon it. God forgive them for their rebellion,
as, I assure you, I forgive them from my heart for what
they do against me."

The House of Lords did not proceed with the impeach-
ment until the following January, when, having appointed
a committee to consider the subject, they requested the
other House to allow them the occasional assistance of the
solicitor general, Mr. Glyn, Selden, and others of their
members, to search for precedents and records *.

Clarendon says, that this impeachment was resolved
upon as a declaration of uncompromising hostility by the
violent members of the popular party, who found that by
temporising and endeavouring to come to terms with the
royalists, they were gradually losing ground. Such is
usually the fate of reformers, who, if they pause before
their object is attained, are weakened by the tendency of
the public opinion to gravitate back to the old system : —
to stand still is to begin to recede. The existence of
Waller's plot, and one or two other circumstances, are
strong evidence that the popular feeling was known
not very much to preponderate in favour of the parlia-
ment. The number of peers and members of the House

* Parliament. Ilist. xii. 266, xiii. 15.


of Commons who attended the king at Oxford, and the
armies which he was enabled to raise, are very conclusive
on this point. A private letter of this date from Colonel
Wilmot to Mr. Crofts in Holland, says, " The king, that
very lately appeared almost abandoned by all his subjects,
is now become the favourite of the kingdom *." Then,
again, libels, pasquinades, and caricatures began to appear
so notoriously against the parliament, that an ordinance
was actually passed to repress them, for the liberty of the
subject was found to be not sacred when it annoyed those
who were usually its most noisy advocates. The existence
of those libels proves that the feeling of the people was
largely against the parliament, for, as Selden said, " you
may see by them how the wind sits. As take a straw
and throw it up into the air, you shall see by that which
way the wind blows, which you will not do by casting up
a stone. More solid things do not show the complexion
of the times so well as ballads and libels t."

The royalist conspiracy, which, from the poet of this
name being its chief promoter, is known as Waller's Plot,
purposed to introduce troops into London at the time the
citizens favourable to Charles were to rise, and, by seizing
the most obnoxious of the parliament members, thus
create a powerful diversion in his behalf t.

• Parliament. Hist. xi. 261.
t Table Talk, s. Libels.

I Clarendon's Hist, of Rebellion, ii. 101, c"vc. Parliament. Hist. xii.
279. 295.


The king's known regard for Selden, and the modera-
tion of liis political career, gave occasion to the suspicion
entertained by some of the most anti-monarchial of the
parliament, that he might be an accessory, or have some
knowledge of this plot. The pusillanimous Waller, who
" preserved his dear-bought life " by the most circum-
stantial betrayal of his friends, was asked whether Selden,
Whitelocke, Pierpoint and others, were acquainted with
the design ? The reply of Waller is an honourable testi-
mony to the character of those patriots ; he said, " that
they were not, but 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*."

Tt is an interesting employment of the imagination
to pause and " contemplate such men as Selden and
Whitelocke, in the privacy of confidential friendship
conferring on the awful ])rospect presented by their
country. Not actuated by enthusiasm, religious or poli-
tical, habituated to venerate established institutions, and

* Whitelock's Memorials, 66.


to look for redress of grievances from the remedies
provided by the law and constitution, yet, strongly im-
pressed with the wrongs and abuses which had attended
the late arbitrary administration, they must have viewed
with jealousy the rise of another power, which, wielded
by violent men, and equally uncontrolled, might proceed
still greater lengths in overthrowing the barriers of right
and liberty. They saw the nation rent into opposite and
irreconcileable parties*, between which the sword was the
sole umpire ; and finding daily more cause to despair of
the success of healing measures, they must have been
occupied in preparing their minds for the part they were,
by principle, called upon to act in the crisis. Under
similar impressions men were to be found in the opposite
parties, who probably differed from each other in political
sentiments only just so much as to give a final prepon-
derance towards the cause of the king or of the parlia-
ment. Their mutual object was conciliation, and each
was disposed to make some concessions for effecting it.
They disagreed on the question, " Quis justius induit

* Selden foresaw that the conilict must terminate in the total over-
throw of one or the other of the two contending- parties — there was no
alternative towards which they could mutually recede. " It is hard,"
he observed, " to make an accommodation between the king- and the
parliament. If you and 1 fell out about money, you saying- 1 owed you
twenty pounds; I saying, I owed you but ten pounds; it might be a
third party allowing- me twenty marks might make us friends. liut
if I said I owed you twenty pounds in silver, and you said tiuit I owed
you twenty pounds of diamonds, it is imjtossible we should ever agree :
— this is tk-; case." — (Table Talk, s. The King.)


anna?" — but concurred in still keeping peace in view,
as the only desirable termination. If we suppose the vir-
tuous Falkland added to the party, conferring in Selden's
study, how little diversity of opinions and wishes would
he have brought*!" Pierpoint ought not to be omitted
in our imagining of this council of worthies, for until he
became disgusted, late in the contest, with the weak and
treacherous conduct of the court party, Clarendon assures
us that he was a man of the greatest moderation in his
counsels, and most solicitous upon every opportunity for
peace. Such men are the best friends of their country.
They are those who, gifted with sound discretion and
judgment, take, in obedience to those guides, their parts
in the disputations of the day, without degenerating into
partisanship. They maintain opinions because they con-
sider them correct, but never because they are advocated
by a party. They detest the bigotry that will not see
wisdom in an opponent, or error in a friend. Selden
never asked before he concluded his judgment which of
the disputants wore the pale purple badge of the royalists,
or the orange favour of the parliamentarians t; and in the

* Dr. Aikin's Lives of Selden and Usher, 127.

+ Many of the regiments of the parliament army, being raised by the
unaided influence of various of the nobihty and gentry in their several
neighbourhoods of residence, adopted for the colour of their uniform
that of the livery of their commanders. Thus, Hampden's men were
in green, Lord Say's and Lord Mandeville's in blue. Lord Brook's in
purple, and Denzel Hollis's in red. The livery of Lord Essex was
orange, and, in compliment to the commander-in-chief, that colour was
adopted as the general badge of the party for their scarfs and favours.


the next public duty which engaged his attention there is
no doubt that he paid as little regard to the peculiar
tenets of the divines with whom he was associated, but
opposed or supported their propositions according to the
dictates of his own reason, without inquiring whether
they emanated from an episcopalian, an independent, or
a presbyterian.

After a twelvemonth's dilatory consideration, an ordi-
nance passed both houses of parliament, in June ]64)3,
for assembling a synod of divines and laymen " to settle
the government and liturgy of the Church of England."
Among them were Whitelocke and Selden. The number
of individuals named to constitute this synod was
much exceeding that which actually assembled. These
amounted to sixty-nine *.

Mr. Baillie, principal of the University of Glasgow,
who was one of the Scotch deputies to this assembly,
thus describes it. " The like of that assembly I did never
see, and, as we hear say, the like was never in England,
nor anywhere is shortly like to be. They did sit in
Henry the Seventh's Chapel, in the place of the con-
vocation, but since the weather grew cold, they did go to
the Jerusalem Chamber, a fair room iti the Abbey of
Westminster. The house is all well hung, and has a good
fire, which is some dainty at London. We meet every

* Rushworth, v. 333. Husband, 208.


day in the week but Saturday, sitting commonly from
nine to two or three after noon. The prolocutor at the
beginning and end has a short prayer. Ordinarily there
will be about sixty of their divines present. These are
divided into three committees, in one whereof every man
is a member, but no man is secluded who chooses to come
to any of the three. Every committee, according to the
parliament order, takes a subject of consideration, and in
their afternoon meeting prepare matters for the assembly,
setting down their opinions and the texts which support
them." He adds, " those who speak, harangue long and
learnedly : I do marvel at the very accurate and extem-
poral replies that many of them usually make *."

A sermon, at their first meeting, was preached by
their prolocutor, Dr. Tvvisse, to them and the two houses
of parliament ; and a day or two subsequently they kept
a public fast t. The following statement, by Mr. Baillie,
of what they endured on such occasions, demonstrates
that this was not merely a nominal affliction. " After
Dr. Twisse had begun with a short prayer, Mr. Marshall
prayed large two hours. After, Mr. Arrowsmith preached
an hour, then a psalm ; thereafter Mr. Vines prayed near
two hours, and Mr. Palmer preached an hour, and Mr.
Seaman prayed near two hours, then a psalm ; after,
Mr. Henderson preached, and Dr. Twisse closed with a

* BaiUie's Letters and Journals, i. 396. f Parliament. Hist. xi. '279.


short prayer and blessing." Our author calls this
" spending from nine to five very graciously*."

These well-meaning men as they excelled us in the
patient endurance of protracted devotions were our equals
in the enjoyment of conviviality. The same author
describes some of the incidents of an entertainment given
to the two houses of parliament and the assembly, at
Taylors' Hall, by the Corporation of London, in January
1644. " The feast," he says, " was very great, valued at
four thousand pounds sterling, yet we had no dessert, nor
music, but drums and trumpets. All was concluded with
a psalm, whereof Dr. Burgess read the line ! There was
no excess in any we heard of. The speaker of the House
of Commons drank to the Lords in the name of all the
Commons in England. The Lords stood up every one
with his glass, for they represent none but themselves,
and drank to the Commons t."

This mingling of psalms with their feasting, and fasting
with the despatch of business, for the parliament had
monthly days of abstinence, are characteristics of that
religious enthusiasm that was so generally prevalent in
the reigns of Charles and his successor Cromwell. In the
latter period it had increased and displayed itself in the
most fantastic forms, having rendered many insane, and a
still greater number hypocrites. Tlie partisans of Charles

* Baillic's Letters, ii. 19. t Uml i. 425.


were called camdiers and maligncints by their opponents,
and in return tliey designated the parliamentarians puri-
tans and round-heads. The title of puritan sarcastically
alluded to that superlative innocency and spirituality
which the chief of them professed, and was a name which
Selden said " he trusted he was not either mad enough or
foolish enough to deserve." It was the fashion of the time
to wear the hair in flowing locks, but the puritans "cut
their hair so close that it would scarcely cover their ears ;
many cut it quite close round their heads, with so many
little peaks, as was something ridiculous to beholdj," and
acquired them the name of roundheads. Mrs. Hutchinson
says, " that though her husband acted with the puritan
party, they would not allow him to be religious, because
his hair was not in their cut *."

Selden was certainly no friend to the synod. He
complained severely against the rashness with which they
came to their conclusions, and had little respect for their
learning. " It is not unusual in the assembly, he ob-
served, to revoke their votes, by reason that they make so
much haste : it is that will make them scorned. It is not
enough to say the House of Commons revoke their votes,
for theirs are but civil truths which they by agreement
create and uncreate as they please. But the truths the
synod deals in are divine ; and when they have voted a

* Memoirs of Col. Hutchinson, 100.


thing, if it be then true, it was true before, not true
because they voted it, nor does it cease to be true because
they vote otherwise."

Whitelocke says, that, in their debates, Selden spoke
admirably, and confuted them in their own learning.
Sometimes, when they had quoted a text of scripture to
prove their assertion, he would silence them by saying,
'* Perhaps in your little pocket Bibles with gilt leaves,"
which they would often produce as authorities, " the
translation may be thus, but the Greek or Hebrew signifies
otherwise *."

We have ample reason to know that the objections
made by Selden to the text of the bibles produced by the
synod divines were not captious. He was no pedant, and
the copies we have of the translations of the Bible then in
common use, are evidence that there were abundance of
errors to afford matter for the most lengthened and re-
peated indulgence of his objections, without his being
chargeable with hypercritical nicety.

It must be evident to every reflecting mind, that the
bible, as the sole source from which our knowledge of pure
religion can be derived, should be published in a form
scrupulously correct. In this age of ignorant fanaticism
such correctness was neglected ; it was made an all-im-
portant object to have cheap Bibles to distribute among
the poorer classes ; and Fuller informs us of the result,
when he quibblingly says, " the small price of the bible

* Whitelocke's Memorials., 68.


hath caused the small prizing of the Bible." The struggle
among the booksellers was to produce copies at the lowest
charge, which insured a closer attention to all requisites
rather than correctness. This culpable neglect obtained
the notice of the government in the early part of the
reign of Charles the First, owing to the following circum-
stance :— Archbishop Usher, on his way to perform
service at St. Paul's Cross, entered a bookseller's shop and
purchased a London edition of the bible, in which, to his
astonishment and dismay, he found the text he had
selected was omitted. This was the occasion of the first
complaint upon the subject*, and, inducing further atten-
tion, the king's printers in 163-2 were justly fined 3000/.
for omitting the word " not " in the seventh command-
ment f. During the reign of the parliament a large im-
pression of the Bible was suppressed on account of its
errors and corruptions ; and we have more than one
authority attesting that these were the results of design
as well as of negligence. Butler is the historian, at the
same time that he is the satirist of the time, when he

Ere the storm of war broke out,
Relig-ion spawn 'd a various rout
Of petulant, capricious sects,
The maggots of corrupted texts.

Hudibras, Pt. -3, Canto 2, 1. 7.

* Harleian MSS. 6395. D'Israeli's Curiosities of Literature,
Second Series, iii. 315.
f Selden's Table Talk, s. Bible.


The errors detected in two of the editions, actually
amounted respectively to 3600 and 6000 *. ,

It may be inquired by the reader, what had become
during this time, of the translation of the Bible completed
during the reign of James the First, which is the one now
in use, and is usually known by his name ? Such inquirer
will hear with surprise, that the manuscript copy was in
the possession of two of the king's printers, who from
cowardice and connivance sujDpressed the publication, and
consequently an uncorrupted edition of the English Bible
did not appear until 1660 f. Of this edition it is grati-
fying to have the approbation of a judge so comj^etent as
Selden. " The English translation of the Bible," he said,
*' is the best translation in the world, and renders best the
sense of the original, taking in for the English translation
the bishops' Bible, as well as King James's. The trans-
lators in King James's time, took an excellent way. That
part of the Bible was given to him who was most excellent
in such a tongue — as the Apocrypha to Andrew Downes
(Greek professor at Cambridge) — then they met together,
and one read the translation, the rest holding in their
hands some Bible either of the learned tongues, or French,
Spanish, Italian, &c. If they found any fault they spoke ;
if not, he read on.

" There is no book so translated as the Bible for the

* G. Garrard's Letter to the Earl of Strafford, i. 20H.
-|- Harleian Collect, iii. 280, D'lsracli, ut supra.



purpose. If I translate a French book into English, I
turn it into English phrase, not into French-English.
For II fait froid, I say It is cold; not It mahes cold;
but the Bible is rather translated into English words than
into English phrase. The Hebraisms are kept, and the
phrase of that language is kept. This it is which renders
its notes and illustrations useful *."

As there was ample justification and opportunity for
Selden's serious criticism at the assembly or synod, of
which he was a member, so, upon the same occasion, he
found numerous objects for his raillery. Though many
in that assembly were learned men, yet too many of them
were far otherwise. As an example, we are told by a
contemporary, that some of them, who were ignorant of
ancient geography, were disputing what was the actual
distance in miles between Jerusalem and Jericho, and
they variously surmised that it was twenty, ten, or seven ;
the last number being preferred, because fish was brought
from the latter town to the market of the other. How-
ever, Selden again unsettled the question by observing
that " possibly the fish in question were salted ! "

Archbishop Usher had been nominated a member of
this synod, but, although he was as liberal in his political
and religious opinions as Selden, with whom he was very
intimate, he consistently declined to take a part in its
proceedings. He did not rest contented with a passive

* Table Talk, s. Bible.


dissent, but firmly maintained the reasonableness of the
ecclesiastical polity to which he had subscribed, and
publicly preached against the authority and intentions of
the synod. This was highly resented by the parliament,
and refusing to him the liberty of opinion which they
claimed for themselves, they passed an ordinance con-
fiscating his library, then in Chelsea College, and it
would have been lost to its learned and excellent owner,
if Selden had not exerted his influence and obtained
permission for Dr. Featly, one of the synod, to purchase
it for a trivial sum, as if the books were for his own use.

The intimacy of Selden with Usher commenced in
1609, in which year the latter, then Professor of Divinity
at Trinity College, Dublin, was in London purchasing-
books for its library. Their mutual delight in the same
branch of literature promoted an intercourse between these
two antiquaries, and strengthened the friendship that was
founded upon their similarity of mind and temperament.
In June 1646, Selden was enabled to perform another
act of kindness to his friend, who, being summoned
before a board of examiners at Westminster, and
captiously questioned, was finally tendered the nega-
tive oath, required to be taken by all who had been
adherents of the king, or had come from any of his
garrisons. Usher desired time to consider it, and being
dismissed from before the committee, he escaped the
necessity of a second appearance, for by the exertions of
Selden and otlier friends in the parliament he was

X 2


permitted to retire into the country without further
molestation *.

Selden's political career was now almost concluded ;
he still continued liis attendance in parliament, and raised
his voice to warn it against the committal of errors that
would endanger the national happiness, but he was almost
left alone as a moderator. Some of his party, disgusted
with the duplicity of the king, had joined the staunchest
sujiporters of the parliament ; and others, weary of its
sway, had joined the royalist forces. Selden still remained
independent, the consistent objurgator of the mistakes of
both parties. Upon great occasions, he was always at his
post ; but the mind will relax in making efforts that
prove invariably ineffectual — disease and age aided in
subduing his energy, and yielding more to his love of
studious quietude, the remainder of his life was devoted
chiefly to literary pursuits.

On the 6th of November, 1643, he was, by a vote of
the House of Commons, appointed keeper of the records
in the Tower t. He probably retained this office until
deprived of it by the sweeping enactment of the self-

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Online LibraryGeorge William JohnsonMemoirs of John Selden : and notices of the political contest during his time → online text (page 19 of 23)