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discompose him : of which an eminent man of
that profession gave me this instance : — In the
year 1666, an opinion ran through the nation,
thai, the end of the world would come that year.
This, whether set on by astrologers, or advanced
by thoso who thought it might have some re-
lation to the number of the beast in the Reve-



LIFE OF SIR MATTHEW HALE. 87

lation, or promoted by men ot" ill designs to dis-
turb the public peace, had spread mightily
among the people : and Judge Hale going that
year the western circuit, it happened, that as he
was on the bench at the assizes, a most terrible
storm fell out very unexpectedly, accompanied
with such flashes of lightning and claps of
thunder that the like will hardly fall out in an
age. Upon which a whisper or a rumour run
through the crowd, that now was the world to
end, and the day of judgment to begin ; and at
this there followed a general consternation in
tlie whole assembly, and all men forgot the bu-
.siness they were met about, and betook them-
selves to their prayers. Tiiis, added to the hor-
ror raised by the storm, looked very dismally,
insomuch that my author, a man of no ordinary
resolution and firmness of mind, confessed that
it made a great impression on himself. But he
told me, that he did observe the judge was not
a whit affected, and was going on with the bu-
siness of the court in his ordinary manner ; from
which he made this conclusion, that his thoughts
were so well tlxed, that he believed, if the world
had been really to end, it would have given him
no considerable disturbance.

But I shall now conclude all that I shall say
concerning him, with what one of the greatest
men of the profession of the law sent me as an
abstract of the character ho had made of him,
upon long observation, and much converse with
him. It was sent me, that from thence, with
the other materials, I might make such a repre-



88 LIFE OF SIR MATTHEW HALE.

sentation of him to the world as he indeed de-
served : but I resolved not to shred it out in
parcels, but to set it down entirely as it was
sent me ; hoping, that as the reader will be
much delighted Avith it, so the noble person that
sent it will not be offended with me for keeping
it entire, and setting it in the best light I could.
It begins abruptly, being designed to supply the
defects of others, from whom I had earlier and
more copious information.

" He would never be brought to discourse of
public matters in private conversation ; but in
questions of law, when any young lawyer put a
case to him, he was very communicative, espe-
cially while he was at the bar : but when he
came to the bench, he grew more reserved, and
would never suffer his opinion in any case to
be knov/n, till he was obliged to declare it judi-
cially ; and he concealed his opinion in great
cases so carefully, that the rest of the Judges
in the same court could never perceive it. His
reason was, because every judge ought to give
sentence according to his own persuasion and
conscience, and not to be swayed by any re-
spect or deference to another man's opinion.
And by this means it hath happened sometimes,
that when all the barons of the exchequer had
delivered their opinions, and agreed in their
reasons and arguments ; yet he coming to speak
last, and differing in judgment from them, hath
expressed himself w4th so much weight and
solidity, that the barons have immediately re-
tracted their votes, and concurred with him.



LIFE OF SIR MATTHEW HALE. 89

He hath sat as a judge in all the courts of law,
and in two of them as chief ; but still, wherever
he sal, all business of consequence followed
him ; and no man was content to sit down by
the judgment of any other court, till the case
was brought before him, to see whether he were
of the same mind ; and his opinion being once
known, men did readily acquiesce in it ; and it
was very rarely seen that any man attempted
to bring it about again ; and he that did so did
it upon great disadvantages, and was always
looked upon as a A^ery contentious person : so
that what Cicero says of Brutus did very often
happen to him, cfiam quos contra atatait (pquos
placdtosqur (limisit.

" Nor did men reverence his judgment and
opinion in courts of law only ; but his authority
was as great in courts of equity, and the same
respect and submission was paid to him there
too : and this appeared not only in his own
court of equity in the exchequer chamber, but
in the chancery too ; for thither he was often
called to advise and assist the lord chancellor,
or lord keeper for the time being : and if the
cause were of difficult examination, or intricated
and entangled with variety of settlements, no
man ever showed a more clear and discerning
judgment : if it were of great value, and great
persons interested in it, no man ever showed
greater courage and intejrrity in laying aside all
respect of persons. When he came to deliver
his opinion, he always put his discourse into
such a method, that one part of it gave light to



90 LIFE OF SIR MATTHEW HALE.

the Other ; and where the proceedings of chan-
cery might prore inconvenient to the subject,
he never spared to observe and reprove them :
and from his observations and discourses, the
chancery hath taken occasion to estabhsh many
of those rules by which it governs itself at this
day.

" He did look upon equity as a part of the
common law, and one of the grounds of it ; and,
therefore, as near as he could, he did always
reduce it to certain rules and principles, that
men might study it as a science, and not think
the administration of it had any thing arbitrary
in it. Thus eminent was this man in every
station ; and into what court soever he was
called, he quickly made it appear that he de-
served the chief seat there.

" As great a lawyer as he was, he would
never suffer the strictness of law to prevail
against conscience : as great a chancellor as he
was, he would make use of all the niceties and
subtleties in law, when it tended to support right
and equit3^ But nothing was more admirable
in him than his patience. He did not affect the
reputation of quickness and despatch, by a hasty
and captious hearing of the counsel : he would
bear with the meanest, and gave every man his
full scope, thinking it much better to lose time
than patience. In summing up of an evidence
to a jury, he would always require the bar to
interrupt him if he mistook ; and to put him in
mind of it, if he forgot the least circumstance.
Some judges have been disturbed at this, as a



LIFE OF SIR MATTHEW HALE. 9.1

rudeness, which he always looked upon as a
service and resj)ect done to liim.

" His whole life was nothing else but a con-
tinual course of labour and industry ; and when
he could borrow any lime from the public ser-
vice, it was wholly employed either in philoso-
phical or divine meditations ; and even that
was a public service too, as it hath proved ; for
they have occasioned his writing of such trea-
tises as are become the choicest entertainment
of wise and good men ; and the world hath rea-
son to wish that more of them were printed.
He that considers the active part of his life, and
with what unwearied diligence and application
of mind he despatched all men's business which
came under his care, will wonder how he could
find any time for contemplation. He that con-
siders again the various studies he passed
through, and the many collections and observa-
tions he hath made, may as justly wonder how he
could lind any time for action. But no man can
wonder at the exemplary piety and innocence
of such a life so spent as this was ; wherein
as he was careful to avoid every idle word,
so it is manifest he never spent an idle day.
They who come far short of this great man will
))•> apt enough to think that this is a panegyric,
which indeed is a history, and but a little part
'jf that history which was with groat truth to bo
r«'lat


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Online LibraryThomas JacksonChristian biography .. → online text (page 6 of 18)