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L I W E S
LORD CHANCELLORS OF ENGLAND,
LIFE OF LORD MACCLESFIELD FROM HIS BIRTH. TILL HE RECEIVED THE GREAT SEAL.
WE next come to a Chancellor, who, instead of “fetching his life and being from men of royal siege,” and boasting of an illustrious pedigree for a thousand years, was the son of an obscure village lawyer, but who inherited from nature a most acute and vigorous intellect, who raised himself by unwearied perseverance and a stupendous store of acquired knowledge to the highest offices in the state, who, though precipitated from power by the judgment of his peers, was more unfortunate than criminal, and whose descendants, now flourishing and distinguished in the peerage of England, ought, notwithstanding the sentence pronounced upon him, to be proud of the founder of their house. It might have been more interesting to have traced his career through difficulties and discouragements, than if it had been the easy result of birth and fortune; but unluckily he has suffered more from biographical neglect than even Somers or Cowper, and the materials have perished from which it might have been hoped that tardy justice would still have been done to his memory. Unless when he was actually mixing in public transactions, little can be known of him by this age or by posterity." * His venerable representative, the present information as regards the early life of my Earl of Macclesfield, in a very kind answer ancestor, the Lord Chancellor Macclesfield, Thomas Parker, afterwards Lord Chief Justice of England, A.D. 1666— Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, and Earl of 1680. Macclesfield, was born on the 23rd of July, 1666 (the “annus mirabilis”), at Leeke, in Staffordshire, where his father carried on the business of an attorney, and by the savings of a long life accumulated a fortune of nearly 100l. of annual rent. Having been taught to read by his mother," he was put for two or three years to a free grammar school, in the neighbouring town of Newport, in Shropshire. The two cleverest boys there were Tom Parker, and Tom Withers, the son of a shoemaker. They were in the same form, and friends though rivals. The prognostications with respect to the latter were the most favourable, and he displayed such parts and application, that there was an attempt made to send him to the University by a subscription among the neighbouring gentry. This failing, he was bound apprentice to his father, and flourished for many years as a shoemaker; but, not observing the maxim “ne sutor ultra crepidam,” he kept up his classical learning, quoted Homer and Virgil to his clerical customers, and fell into misfortunes in his old age. It is pleasant to think that the two schoolfellows socially met when the one occupied a stall at Newport, and the other was Lord
to my inquiries respecting him, says—“I or after his retirement from public to private regret extremely that I cannot give you any life. In the large collection of MS. letters I
WOL. WI. B
possess at Shirburn Castle there are very few
wealthy father as well as of high connections,
Chief Justice of England,-and that they afterwards renewed their correspondence when the one, having lost all his customers, was reduced to penury, and the other had been precipitated with disgrace from the highest station a subject can hold in this kingdom.
Young Parker, although he picked up a smattering of Greek and Latin while at school, then knew little more than A.D. 1680– the peasantry among whom he was reared, and he ” may be considered as in a great measure self-taught. But he had acquired a taste for reading and a habit of steady application, to which all his future greatness must be ascribed. While still a boy he was placed in his father's office, and was articled as a clerk—to become himself an attorney. It is said that he displayed from the tenderest years most wonderful diligence and steadiness, and that, not contented with making himself perfect in the routine of his father's business, he read all the books of amusement and instruction on which he could lay his hands—spending the perquisites which came to him as clerk in the purchase of a little library of his own.
The father about this time removed from Leeke to Newcastle-under-Lyne; and the dutiful son following him, still displayed, we are told, the same attention to business and desire of self-improvement.
While he was so engaged, there is respecting him, in the admission book of the Inner Temple, the following perplexing entry:—
“Thomas Parker, Gent, sonne and heir apparent of Thomas Parker, of New
Castle under Lyme, in the county of Stafford, Gent.
No explanation can be given of his admission to an Inn of Court when he was only in his eighteenth year, and in the middle of his apprenticeship. It may be conjectured that his father had humoured his ambitious design of being one day a counsellor; or that, being sent up to do some law-business during the term in London, he had got himself admitted without his father's knowledge. Still greater perplexity arises from the following entry, to be found in the books of Trinity College, Cambridge – “Thomas Parker Fil. Thomae natus Newcastle under lime, Com. Stafford. E schola Derbi
ensi M* Ogden ludimagistro. AEtat. 18. Octob. 9. 1685. pens. MTo Tho. Boteler Tutore.”
The same Thomas Parker appears to have been matriculated on the 17th of December following. The first question A.D. 1686— is, whether this individual was Lord Macclesfield, 1690. who certainly was born at Leeke, not at Newcastleunder-Lyne ; who certainly had been educated at the free grammar school of Newport;" and who, at the above date, was in his twentieth year. I have likewise ascertained that at the end of the 17th century there was another family of the name of Parker residing at Derby. I am inclined, however, to believe that Lord Macclesfield was the Thomas Parker here designated, for at some period or another his name had been inscribed as a member of Trinity College; and no other entry that can refer to him can be found in the books of that society. The probability is, that, ambitiously contemplating a call to the bar at some future period, he wished to have the éclat of being a Cambridge-man, and that a year and a half after he had entered himself of the Inner Temple he thus entered himself of Trinity College, not being very scrupulous as to the particulars which he gave of his place of birth and of his age. * is certain, that he went on working in his father's office till, having regularly served his time, he was placed on the roll of attorneys in the year 1686. To prosecute his profession with more advantage, he established himself at Derby, a flourishing town, in which a wealthy client of his father had lately settled in trade, and promised to patronise him. Here he prospered beyond his most sanguine hopes, and, from his great skill and diligence, in a year or two his business, in point of extent and respectability, was equal to that of any attorney in the county. We know no farther particulars of his history while he remained in this department of the profession, except that his house in Derby was in Bridge Street, at the foot of the bridge next the Three Crowns. We may imagine that, when the assizes came round, he was at first struck with immense awe at beholding the Judges in their scarlet robes, and could scarcely venture to speak to the leaders of the Midland Circuit on delivering them briefs in the causes which he had entered for trial; that his reverence for these dignitaries gradually dwindled away; that he began sometimes to think he himself could have examined witnesses quite as well as the barristers employed by him, and even, by making a better speech to