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ATTEMPT TO TURN HIM INTO RIDICULE.
CONTINUATION OF THE LIFE OF LORD KEEPER WILLIAMS TILL THE END
OF THE REIGN OF JAMES I.
The Lord Keeper now set to work with stupendous energy and with consummate discretion. By incessant reading and conversation with Finch and the officers of the Court, he had got some little insight into its rules and practice; he never sat in public without the assistance of the Master of the Rolls, or some of the common-law Judges supposed to be most familiar with equity; and although he ostensibly delivered the judgment, he took care to be decorously prompted by those on whom he could rely.
In spite of his great caution he could not avoid sometimes misapp]ying technical terms, and causing a titter among
the lawyers, who viewed him with no favour. One morning, when his Honour the Master of the Rolls, who had been expected, was by sudden illness detained at home, a wag at the bar had the impudence to attempt a practical joke upon the Right Reverend the Lord Keeper. When called to, the wicked counsellor rose demurely, and pretending to look at his brief, made a sham motion, which seems to have been somewhat like that mentioned in the Life of Lord Eldon, for a writ,
Quare adhæsit pavimento.” The exact terms of this motion are not mentioned by any Reporter, but we are told on undoubted authority that it was “ crammed like a grenade with obsolete words, coins of far-fetched antiquity, which had been long disused, worse than Sir Thornas More’s' An averia carucæ capta in withernam sint irreplegiabilia. With these misty and recondite phrases he thought to leave the new Judge groping about in the dark.” Williams discovered the trick, and, notwithstanding his Welsh blood, he preserved his temper. “With a serious face the Lord Keeper answered him in a cluster of most crabbed notions picked out of metaphysics and logic, as categorematical and syncategorematical,' and a deal of such • Hacket explains their dislike of him into who hated the very dream of a sheaf, to envy, comparing them to “ Joseph's brethren, which they must do obeysance."-p. 60.
drumming stuff, that the motioner, being foiled at his own weapon, and well laughed at in the Court, went home with this new lesson—that he that tempts a wise man in jest shall make himself a fool in earnest.”p
The account we have of his industry shames the most industrious men of this degenerate age. He entered the Court of Chancery in the winter time by candle-light, between six and seven o'clock in the morning. Having sat there two hours, he went to the House of Lords between eight and nine, where the Prince and the Peers were assembled, expecting him to take his place on the woolsack. There he continued propounding and discussing the questions which arose till twelve at noon, every day, and when there was a late debate till past one in the afternoon. Going to the Deanery he refreshed himself with a short repast, and then returned to the Court of Chancery to hear petitions and causes which he had not been able to despatch in the morning. Coming home about eight in the evening he perused such letters and papers as his secretaries had prepared for him,—and after that, far in the night, he prepared himself for so much as concerned him to have in readiness for the Lords' House in the morning. His attendances in the Star Chamber and at the council-table did not interfere with the business of the Court of Chancery,
where he always attended two hours early in the morning before going elsewhere. He is said to have decided five or six causes in a morning, according to the quality and measure of the points that came to be debated in them, and that he might make others industrious and punctual like himself, two or three afternoons in every week he had a peremptory paper consisting of cases that had been long depending, and that he himself appointed to be heard at all events, and, if possible, finally disposed of. He is a striking instance of what may be accomplished without genius by industry. "Industry, I think,” says his secretary, was his recreation,- for certain he had not a drop of lazy blood in his veins. He filled up every hour of the day, and a good part of the night, with the despatch of some public and necessary business.”a
Thus energetic and thus assisted, notwithstanding his inexperience and ignorance as a Judge, he got on marvellously well, and the causes, petitions, and motions were disposed of without any public clamour. As yet, the proceedings in Chancery were not reported, precedent not being considered
P Hacket, 75.
9 Ibid. 76.
HIS SUCCESS AS A JUDGE.
binding there, as in other Courts, and none of his decisions have been preserved to us. But as there were several sessions of parliament while he held the Great Seal, and there does not appear to have been any complaint against him except in one instance, which was without foundation,' we are bound to believe that, in spite of all the objections reasonably made to his appointment, he gave satisfaction to the public.'
At all events, he satisfied himself. On the 10th of July, 1622, the anniversary of his receiving the Seal, he thus wrote to Buckingham. “In this place I have now served his Majesty one whole year diligently and honestly. But to my heart's grief, by reason of my rawness and inexperience, very unprofitably. Yet, if his Majesty will examine the registers, there will be found more causes finally ended this one year than in all the seven years preceding. How well ended, I ingenuously confess, I know not. His Majesty and your Lordship (who, no doubt, have received some complaints, though in your love you conceal them from me) are in that the most competent judges."
He and his friends suggested that it was by some sort of miraculous influence that he performed so well; but the miracle is solved in his judiciously availing himself of the knowledge and skill of others. His assessors may truly be considered the Lords Commissioners of the Great Seal while he held it;--and his great merit was, that he steadily kept them to their work.
He seems from his own resources to have done his duty creditably in the House of Lords. Parliament met in November, 1621. He had then to address the two Houses, in the absence of the King, who was indisposed. This speech was well seasoned with divine right and passive obedience, and we have this account of it in a letter written to him next day by Buckingham. “ I know not how the Upper House of Parliament approve your Lordship's speech. But I am sure he that called them together, and as I think can best judge of it, is so taken with it, that he saith it is the best that ever he heard in Parliament, and the nearest to his Majesty's meaning; which, beside the contentment it hath given to his Majesty, hat! much comforted me in his choice of your Lordship, which in all things doth so well answer his expectation.' But the speech excited violent murmurs against the speaker
s Quod nemo noverit, pænc non fit.
r Sir John Bouchier's case, post.
ti Parl. Hist. 1295.
and the whole order to which he belonged. A few days after, during a protracted debate respecting oaths, an aged Bishop, very infirm in health, begged permission to withdraw,--which then seems to have been necessary before a member could be absent from the division. Thereupon several Lords, who are said to have " borne a grudge to that apostolical order,” cried out, that “they might all go home if they would ;” and the Earl of Essex, the future leader of the parliamentary army,then a hot-headed young man who had just taken his seat,made a formal motion, which he required to be put from the woolsack and entered on the journals, “ that their Lordships were content to open their doors wide to let out all Bishops.” The Lord Keeper, who perceived that this blow was aimed at himself, “ replied with a prudent animosity, that he would not put the question even if commanded by the House, for their Lordships, as well spiritual as temporal, were called by the King's writ to sit and abide there till the same power dissolved them, and for my Lords temporal, they had no power to license themselves, much less to authorise others to depart from the Parliament.” This spirited conduct quelled the disturbance, and the debate was allowed quietly to proceed ; but Williams lived to see the day when he ineffectually opposed a bill for preventing the Bishops from sitting in the House of Lords, and he had the mortification to find that this bill, after passing both Houses, received the royal assent.
The only other proceeding in which he was personally concerned during this session, was upon a petition presented to the House of Lords by Sir John Bouchier, complaining that he had given judgment against the petitioner in the Court of Chancery without allowing his counsel to speak. The case was heard for several days at the bar,—when it turned out that the complaint was entirely unfounded, as, after ample discussion, the decree had been pronounced on the advice of the Master of the Rolls, Mr. Justice Hutton, and Mr. Justice Chamberlayne.
The Lords determined that, for this false charge against the Lord Keeper, Sir John Bouchier should be imprisoned, and that he should make an acknowledgment in their House, and in Chancery, of his faults. But the Lord Keeper saying that Sir John had behaved temperately in Chancery, besought a remission of the acknowledgment of his fault in that Court, and also of his imprisonment. The Lords highly commended the Lord Keeper's clemency, and remitted both. Then Sir
ACTIVE IN THE PROMOTION OF LAUD.
John being brought to the bar, and his acknowledgment, ready drawn up, being delivered to him, he, kneeling, said, · My Lords, in obedience to the judgment of this House, I humbly submit myself. Whereas by the honourable sentence of the Lords spiritual and temporal, I stand convicted of a great misdemeanour, for taxing and laying an imputation on the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England, I do in all humbleness acknowledge the justice of their sentence, and also mine own fault and offence, and am heartily sorry therefor, and do crave pardon both of your Lordships in general, and of the Lord Keeper in particular.”ų–On account of a quarrel with the House of Commons this parliament was soon after dissolved by proclamation; and by an order of Council, in which the Lord Keeper concurred, Sir Edward Coke, Sir Robert Phillips, Mr. Selden, Mr. Prynne, and several other leaders of the opposition party were committed to prison.
About this time he was instrumental in the promotion of a man who afterwards turned out to be his greatest enemy. Buckingham wished to appoint Laud, one of the King's chaplains, whom he had found very useful on several occasions, to the Bishopric of St. David's; but most unexpectedly James demurred, on account of some trouble caused to him from the ultra high church principles of this divine, in attempting to introduce episcopacy into Scotland. The Lord Keeper seeking to remove these scruples, the King said to him: * I perceive whose messenger you are; Stenny hath set you on.
The plain truth is, that I keep Laud back from all place of rule and authority, because I find he hath a restless spirit, and cannot see when matters are well, but loves to toss and change, and to bring things to a pitch of reformation floating in his own brain. I speak not at random; he hath made himself known to me to be such a one. The Lord Keeper allowed that this was a great fault, which might make Laud to be likened to Caius Gracchus qui nihil immotum, nihil tranquillum, nihil quietumi, nihil denique in eodem statu relinquebat ;--but undertook that it should be cured in time to come. “ Then take him," said the King, “ but on my saul, you will repent it.”
We now come to an affair in which Williams acted an exceedingly ungenerous part. Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, when shooting at a deer with a crossbow, had accidentally killed a keeper in Lord Zouch’s park. Williams, on hearing of this calamity, instead of eagerly
u i Parl. Hist. 1364.