« ПредишнаНапред »
A.D. 1660. FAMILY OF LORD NORTHINGTON, 305
LIFE OF LORD CHANCELLOR NORTHINGTON FROM HIS BIRTH. TILL HE RECEIVED THE GREAT SEAL.
MY next Chancellor I cannot place in the first rank as a lawyer or a statesman; but he is not despicable in either capacity, and he is a memorable personage in the history of the Great Seal, as he held it nine years, in two reigns,' and during the whole of four administrations,—the last of which he overturned.* Robert Henley (afterwards Lord Keeper, Lord Chancellor, Baron Henley, and Earl of Northington) was descended from the ancient family of “ Henley of that ilk,” in Somersetshire." In 1660, the elder branch was advanced to the dignity of the baronetage. Before then, a cadet, following the law as a profession, had filled the lucrative situation of “Master of the Court of King's Bench on the Plea Side,”—from the profits of which he left to his family a landed estate of 3000l. a year. He acquired the Grange in Hampshire, which, when afterwards in the possession of his descendant, Horace Walpole speaks of with so much admiration. The house was built for the worthy taxer of costs, when he had become Sir Robert Henley, Knight, by Inigo Jones—presenting a hall and staircase which the world was called upon to admire as “beautiful models of the purest and most classic antiquity.”"
f George II. George III.
was, I suspect, misled by the respect due to
Marquis of Rockingham's.
of all who remember it as it then was, repre-
His son Robert sat in parliament for the borough of Andover, without acquiring much distinction; but the name of his grandson, Anthony, one of the politest and most accomplished men of his day, frequently occurs in the memoirs and correspondence of the reign of Queen Anne. Having distinguished himself at Oxford by an early relish for literature, and the great refinement and elegance of his manners, on removing to London he was admitted into the society and friendship of the first wits of the time. He was intimate with the Earls of Dorset and Sunderland, and with Swift, Pope, and Arbuthnot. “It was thought strange,” says his biographer, “as every one knew what a secret influence he had on affairs in King William's Court, that he who had a genius for any thing great, as well as any thing gay, did not rise in the state, where he would have shone as a politician no less than he did at Will's and Tom's as a wit. But the Muses and pleasantry had engaged him. He had something of the character of Tibullus, and, except his extravagance, was possessed of all his other qualities—his indolence, his gallantry, his wit, his humanity, his generosity, his learning, his taste for letters. There was hardly a contemporary author that did not experience his bounty.” “ Garth’s “Dispensary” was dedicated to him, and some even ascribed to him the authorship of that poem.” He certainly was a contributor to the “Tatler.” He first served in the House of Commons for Andover, and afterwards till his death for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. He was a strong Whig, and on one occasion came prominently forward as mover of the address to Queen Anne, “that she would confer some dignity in the church upon Hoadly, as a reward for asserting and vindicating the principles of the Revolution.” This made him so odious to the Tory administration, which bore sway for the last four years of Anne's reign, that they made a great effort to deprive him of his seat, first at the election, and then on a petition, but without effect. He married Mary, daughter and co-heiress
tion: “A man of your character can no more
Northington to Mr. Drummond, and is now
prevent a dedication than he would encou-
of the Honourable Peregrine Bertie, second son of Montague Earl of Lindsey, with whom he received a considerable fortune. They had three sons:—Anthony, the eldest, who inherited, and for a time enjoyed, the family estate; Bertie, the youngest, who went into the church ; and Robert, A.D. 1708 the subject of this memoir, who was born in the year " ' " 1708." w I find no anecdotes of the future Chancellor's childhood, or omens to foretel his coming greatness. Indeed he was pretty well stricken in years before either he himself or others imagined that there would be any thing to distinguish him from the ordinary race of mortals who form the chorus in the play of life—without ever fretting and strutting a single hour upon the stage. He was educated at Westminster School. There he formed an acquaintance with the great Lord Mansfield, to whom he was junior about four years; but in consequence of the Chief Justice having spent some time in travelling on the Continent, after he had quitted Christ Church, there was only the difference of a few months in their standing at the bar, Murray being the senior by three terms. Another distinguished school-fellow of theirs was Sir Thomas Clarke, afterwards Master of the Rolls; so that the three highest stations in the law were occupied at the same moment by three Westminster men. Murray and Clarke were both King's scholars; Henley was an oppidan. I have no means of knowing what acquisitions of learning he made, or what disposition he exhibited, till he was transferred to St. John's College, Oxford. There he was entered, and began to reside, on the 19th of November, 1724, in his 17th year. At this time Alma Mater still lay “dissolved in port,” and young Henley, as soon as he was matriculated, A.D. 1724– piously contracted a great passion for that generous ** liquor—which adhered to him through life, and made him despise claret and all other thin potations. He did not altogether neglect classical learning, but, without being thought at all remarkably deficient in mathematics, he only knew the difference in general appearance between a triangle, a circle, and a square, remaining ignorant of the most common properties of those figures. He chiefly delighted in humour and buffoonery, laying the foundation of that extraordinary collection of droll and not very delicate stories which gave brilliancy to his subsequent career. On the 3rd of November, 1727, he was elected a fellow of All Souls, a distinction for which he was supposed to be chiefly indebted to his powers of amusement. He did not take his degree of Master of Arts till the 5th of July, 1733. But on the 1st of February, 1728, he was entered of the Inner Temple, and was supposed to begin his juridical studies. We are told that Murray, when he first came to town, “drank champagne with the wits,” and that his classic tastes and literary attainments led him to prefer the society of scholars and men of genius to that of his professional brethren. Henley was devoted to the juice of a more powerful vintage, which, in the society he haunted, flowed in very copious streams. Though not devoid of scholarship, and possessing a rich fund of anecdote of a peculiar sort, his conversation was too jovial and boisterous to be endured in the circles where the accomplished Murray shone. Having attended the Courts in the morning, and read a little black-letter law on his return, he gave himself to “pleasure, in the way he liked it,” for the rest of the day, with a few thirsty “All Souls” friends, or some congenial spirits of the Temple. The truth is, that harddrinking was at that time the ruling vice and bane of society, and Henley was not, at his early period of life, fortunate enough to escape the general contagion. He afterwards so far reformed as not to allow his love of wine very seriously to interfere with the pressing business of life, but many a severe fit of the gout was the result of his youthful indulgences. When suffering from the effects of this disease, he was once heard, in the House of Lords, to mutter, after several hobbling and painful walks, with the purse in his hand, between the woolsack and the bar, “If I had only known that these legs were one day to carry a Lord Chancellor, I’d have taken better care of them when I was a lad.” However, he was a very shrewd fellow; he had an exceedA.D. 1728– ingly good head for law, and, from occasional starts 1732. of application, he made much more progress than dull plodders who pore constantly over the “Year Books.” Although he never could be called a scientific lawyer, he acquired a competent practical knowledge of his profession, and could get up very reputably all the learning on any particular question with which he had to deal. He was called to
* The most distinguished man of the name, they would probably have admitted the claim before our hero, was Orator Henley, celebrat- if he had gained his notoriety as a General or ed by Pope. He claimed to be related to the a Judge. ancient race I have been mentioning; and
A.D. 1733–42. GOES THE WESTERN CIRCUIT. 309
the bar, by the Society of the Inner Temple, on the 23rd of June, 1732.” He began with taking a seat in the back row of the Court of King's Bench, where for a long while he had little employment but to take notes, to crack jokes, and to arrange supper parties. From family connections he chose the Western Circuit, of which he afterwards became the leader, but there his progress was very slow. He had at first a few briefs at Winchester. He showed himself very handy in business, and displayed great skill in cross-examining witnesses, although he was sometimes supposed to take unjustifiable liberties with them. Bishop Newton, who was very intimate with him, as they had been at Westminster together, relates an anecdote of his having cross-examined a broad-brimmed saint, named ZEPHANIAH REEVE, at Bristol, with so much raillery and effect, that the Quaker, forgetting the pacific tenets of his sect, actually sent him a message, insisting on honourable satisfaction, or an apology. Mr. Henley was by no means wanting in courage, but, sensible that he had exceeded the bounds of professional licence, and anxious to escape the ridicule of going into the field with such an antagonist, very readily adopted the latter alternative. Many years afterwards, when he was Lord Chancellor, having had a couple of pipes of Madeira con- A.D. 1733– signed to him at Bristol, he remembered ZEPHANIAH, * and employed him to pay the freight and duty upon them, and forward them to the Grange. “The winter following,” says the Bishop, “when the Quaker was in town, he dined at the Chancellor's with a large party of nobility and members of the House of Commons. After dinner the Chancellor related the whole story of his first acquaintance with his friend Reeve, and of every particular that had passed between them, with great good-humour and pleasantry, and to the no little diversion of the company.” In those days the smart junior barristers used to pass their vacations at Bath, a custom not entirely left off when I first knew the profession. Young Counsellor Henley was there, the gayest of the gay, and distinguished himself among the ladies in the pump-room in the morning, as well as among the topers in the tavern at night. Here he formed a rather ° He was afterwards admitted of Lincoln's always his true Inn of Court; and he became
Inn (1745), but this was only to qualify him a bencher of that Society on being made a to hold chambers. The Inner Temple was King's counsel in 1751.