Imagens das páginas

that it is calculated to be in many ways importantly beneficial to the country.

The radical defect of the present parish registers is, that they are records of ecclesiastical rites, which happen only incidentally and collaterally to suggest probable presumption as to facts of great civil importance, this presumption being always uncertain, often delusive, and in no way arising with respect to a great part of the population. It is true that the bill will establish a civil register of births and deaths, and as we began by asserting, these being events which affect the title to property, it is just as important, for civil purposes, that the period and place of their occurrence should be duly ascertained, as that a deed or a will should be properly prepared and attested. A change of property is effected by birth, and not by baptism; by death, and not by burial. In order to be consistent you should either go so far as to say that a man shall not inherit unless he be baptized and his ancestor buried, or you should furnish him with proof of the particular circumstance which gives him title to the inheritance.

There is no interference with the ecclesiastical registers of baptisms, burials and marriages; they will be kept as heretofore, and retain the collateral validity for civil purposes which they have hitherto possessed; but as no record exists of births and deaths, a civil register is established for supplying such proof of them as our courts of law require.


Of Thomas Lord Coventrie, late Lord Keeper of the Great Seale of England. Some notable Observations in the course of his Life, and Ultimum Vale to the World. (Among the

. Sloane MSS. in the British Museum.)

It has been said of this eminent person by a recent biographical writer, that of all public men, in all times, he seems to have borne the most unblemished reputation. Without assenting to the full extent of such unalloyed eulogy, we may agree that the Lord Keeper Coventry was, both in knowledge and honesty, considerably in advance of the corrupt and unscrupulous age in which he lived; while by the possession also of an uncommon share of worldly prudence and moderation, he was enabled to advance and maintain his own fortunes in spite of powerful and persevering enemies, in a time when court fortunes in general were subject to the most capricious and ruinous reverses. The curious MS. whose title we have quoted above,1 although it cannot pretend to compete in the extent, variety, or amusing character of its details, with the goodly folio wherein the history of Lord Coventry's immediate predecessor is so minutely delineated—we mean Bishop Hacket's Life of Archbishop Williams, of which we presented some samples for our readers' amusement in a former volume— is yet neither without merit as a composition, nor interest as a memoir. The brief sketch which we are about to draw, from this and other more general sources, of this nobleman's life and actions, may not therefore be altogether unamusing.

Thomas, first Lord Coventry, was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Coventry, a judge of the Common Pleas in the first few years of James I.'s reign, and was born in the year 1580, at Croome d'Abitot, in Worcestershire, (still the chief seat of

'' An imperfect copy of the same MS. is also to be found in the Lansdowne Collection (1054), in a different hand, and bears there the signature of "Thomas White, Gent." It will be observed that we have modernized the orthography of our quotations.

his descendants,) which his father had acquired by marriage with the heiress of the family of Jefferies, its former proprietors. He was educated under his father's immediate superintendence until his fourteenth year, when he was entered a gentleman commoner of Balliol College, Oxford, and after remaining there three years, came to London to pursue his studies for the bar. "The acquirings of his father," says the MS., "in the progress of his profession, as it seems, were not much, or in that excess, as I may call it, which commonly men of the law, attaining to that dignity, leave to their heirs in the erection of a family: wherefore I conceive it probable that the son did not decline that profession wherein the father concluded, but began there to build on that foundation where himself had made his first approaches." It seems he rose • very speedily into practice and reputation. "He was of the Inner House of Court,1 (pursues his chronicler,; and no sooner by an indefatigable diligence in study attained the bar, but he appeared in the lustre of his new profession above the common expectation of men of that form, which he made good in the manifestation of his exquisite abilities as soon as he came to plead (for the orator at the bar hath much the start of a chamber-man); but he was in utrumque paratus, and here he first began to grow into the name of an active and pregnant man." Little of this success could be ascribed to the station or influence of his father, who had not yet attained his seat on the bench, and when he did, occupied it little more than two years, dying in the summer vacation of 1607. It was about the same period that his son, prudently considering the advantage of having two roads to the temple of fortune, found means to ally himself with a wealthy Worcestershire family; marrying Sarah, the sister of Sir Ed ward Sebright, of Besford, in that county. On her death, a few years afterwards, in childbirth of his eldest son, he sought out fresh sources of enrichment. "Having married and interred his first love," says the quaint narrative of the MS., "in the fruit of his primogenitus, now surviving, a Baron and a Peer of the realm, he plighted his faith to the city, for he became [November 1616,] Recorder of London by a public suffrage and smile of the

i He was admitted 1st June 1595; called 19th May 1603.

citizens, and espoused for his second wife the widow., of a citizen, lovely, young, rich, and of good fame; in whom he became the father of many hopeful children of cither sex, all married richly in his life, or left in the way of a noble substance." The worthy biographer goes on to descant upon his domestic enjoyments :—" We may represent his happiness in nothing more than in this, that London had first given him the handsel of a place both honorable and gainful, together with a wife as loving as himself was uxorious, and of that sort which are not unaptly styled housewives; so that these two drew diversely, but in one way and to one and the self-same end, he in the exercise of his profession, she in the exercise of her domestic; for they that knew the discipline of their house aver, that he waved that care as a contiguous distraction to his vocation, and left her only (as a helper) to manage that charge which best suited to her conversation." It was not certainly with the best will of the court that he succeeded to the office of Recorder. The vacancy arose from the appointment of Sir Henry Montagu (afterwards Earl of Manchester) to the chief-justiceship in the room of Coke, whose unmanageable independence had occasioned his dismissal, and of whom Coventry was set down as a disciple and adherent. Lord Chancellor Bacon, sending to the king the formal instrument of Lord Coke's discharge, writes to him (13th November, 1616,) "If your Majesty resolve on Montagu, as I conceive and wish, it is very material, as these times are, that your majesty have some care that the Recorder succeeding be a temperate and discreet man, and assured to your Majesty's service. If your Majesty, without too much harshness, can continue the place withiii your own servants, it is best; if not, the man on whom the choice is like to fall, which is Coventry, I hold doubtful for your service; not but that he is a welllearned and an honest man; but he hath been, as it were, bred by Lord Coke^and seasoned in his ways." It is pretty clear, however, that the new Recorder proved a much more tractable official than had been apprehended, for he speedily became the object of direct court patronage. In the following March (1617), being then only in his thirty-sixth year, he was appointed Solicitor General, and knighted by the king at Theobald's; and in January 1620, on the removal of Sir Henry Yelverton, he succeeded to the office of AttorneyGeneral; but he did not in these advancements, his biogra1 pher reminds us, forget his connexion with the wealth-bestowing citizens :—" Neither did he then leave the city, nor the city desert him; for by the marriage of his eldest son (the now Baron) he heaped up to his other acquisitions a bulk of treasure of no common sum; and leaving it so, that it may well fall into the question, whether-lie was more beholden to the city, or the city to him; or thus, whether more may be attributed to his fortune than his merit. Moreover, they ascribe much to the blessings of his house, that they both were constant in their religion, and serious in their assiduous devotions to the set and fixed forms of our church prayers, whereunto the whole family were commendably assembled."

He held his post of Attorney-General until some months after the accession of Charles I., when, on the disgrace of Bishop Williams, he was elevated, by the recommendation of the all-powerful Buckingham, to the vacant office of Lord Keeper. His letter of thanks to the Duke for his good offices in his behalf is extant in the Harleian Collection, and is conceived in a far less abject strain than appears to have been usual even for persons little beneath him in rank to address to that imperious and capricious favourite. Buckingham, it seems, had sounded Mr. Attorney some time before upon his disposition to step into the shoes of my Lord of Lincoln, and given him time to consider of it,—a period of deliberation which ended, as might be expected, (although not, as he professes, without a great conflict and perplexity of thoughts,) in a dutiful resolution "to lay himself in all humility and submission at the feet of his sovereign, to dispose of him as should seem best to his own princely wisdom and goodness," which, says he, " if it be that way as your Grace told me his Highness did incline, I-shall dutifully obey, and faithfully undergo it; my hope being, that God and the King's Majesty will bear with my infirmities, and accept my true heart and willing endeavour." This letter bears date the 13th of September 1625; the appointment, however, was not completed until the end of October, Williams having managed to protract his fall a few weeks longer. From a letter that has been preserved, addressed by Coventry to Lord Bacon, in answer to an

« AnteriorContinuar »