Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Clarendons Early Friends
By Edward Hyde, Lord Clarendon (16091674)
From the Life
MR. SELDEN was a person whom no character can flatter, or transmit in any expressions equal to his merit and virtue. He was of so stupendous learning in all kinds and in all languages, (as may appear in his excellent and transcendent writings), that a man would have thought he had been entirely conversant amongst books, and had never spent an hour but in reading and writing; yet his humanity, courtesy, and affability was such, that he would have been thought to have been bred in the best courts, but that his good nature, charity, and delight in doing good, and in communicating all he knew, exceeded that breeding. His style in all his writings seems harsh and sometimes obscure; which is not wholly to be imputed to the abstruse subjects of which he commonly treated, out of the paths trod by other men; but to a little undervaluing the beauty of a style, and too much propensity to the language of antiquity; but in his conversation he was the most clear discourser, and had the best faculty of making hard things easy, and presenting them to the understanding of any man that hath been known. Mr. Hyde was wont to say, that he valued himself upon nothing more than upon having had Mr. Seldens acquaintance from the time he was very young; and held it with great delight as long as they were suffered to continue together in London; and he was very much troubled always when he heard him blamed, censured, and reproached, for staying in London, and in the parliament, after they were in rebellion, and in the worst times, which his age obliged him to do; and how wicked soever the actions were which were every day done, he was confident he had not given his consent to them; but would have hindered them if he could with his own safety, to which he was always enough indulgent. If he had some infirmities with other men, they were weighed down with wonderful and prodigious abilities and excellencies in the other scale.
Charles Cotton was a gentleman born to a competent fortune, and so qualified in his person and education, that for many years he continued the greatest ornament of the town, in the esteem of those who had been best bred. His natural parts were very great, his wit flowing in all the parts of conversation: the superstructure of learning not raised to a considerable height; but having passed some years in Cambridge, and then in France, and conversing always with learned men, his expressions were ever proper and significant, and gave great lustre to his discourse upon any argument; so that he was thought by those who were not intimate with him, to have been much better acquainted with books than he was. He had all those qualities which in youth raise men to the reputation of being fine gentlemen; such a pleasantness and gaiety of humour, such a sweetness and gentleness of nature, and such a civility and delightfulness in conversation, that no man in the court or out of it, appeared a more accomplished person; all these extraordinary qualifications being supported by as extraordinary a clearness of courage and fearlessness of spirit, of which he gave too often manifestation. Some unhappy suits in law, and waste of his fortune in those suits, made some impression upon his mind; which being improved by domestic afflictions, and those indulgences to himself which naturally attend those afflictions, rendered his age less reverenced than his youth had been; and gave his best friends cause to have wished that he had not lived so long.
John Vaughan was then a student of the law in the Inner Temple, but at that time indulged more to the politer learning; and was in truth a man of great parts of nature, and very well adorned by arts and books, and so much cherished by Mr. Selden, that he grew to be of entire trust and friendship with him, and to that owed the best part of his reputation; for he was of so magisterial and supercilious a humour, so proud and insolent a behaviour, that all Mr. Seldens instructions, and authority, and example, could not file off that roughness of his nature, so as to make him very grateful. He looked most into those parts of the law which disposed him to least reverence to the crown, and most to popular authority; yet without inclination to any change in government; and therefore, before the beginning of the civil war, and when he clearly discerned the approaches to it in parliament (of which he was a member), he withdrew himself into the fastnesses of his own country, North Wales, where he enjoyed a secure, and as near an innocent life, as the iniquity of that time would permit; and upon the return of King Charles the Second, he appeared under the character of a man who had preserved his loyalty entire, and was esteemed accordingly by all that party.
His friend Mr. Hyde, who was then become Lord High Chancellor of England, renewed his old kindness and friendship towards him, and was desirous to gratify him all the ways he could, and earnestly pressed him to put on his gown again, and take upon him the office of a judge; but he excused himself upon his long discontinuance (having not worn his gown, and wholly discontinued the profession from the year 1640, full twenty years), and upon his age, and expressly refused to receive any promotion; but continued all the professions of respect and gratitude imaginable to the chancellor, till it was in his power to manifest the contrary, to his prejudice, which he did with circumstances very uncommendable.