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character nor his particular actions, would scarcely have been noticed or remembered except by men of weak minds : it is not unlikely, therefore, that they were misapprehended at the time, and it is most probable that they have been related as incorrectly as they were noticed injudiciously. Nor are the consequences of such garrulous biography merely negative. For, as insignificant stories can derive no real respectability from the eminence of the person who happens to be the subject of them, but rather an additional deformity of disproportion, they are apt to have their insipidity seasoned by the same bad passions that accompany the habit of gossiping in general ; and the misapprehensions of weak men meeting with the misinterpretations of malignant men, have not seldom formed the groundwork of the most grievous calumnies. In the second place, these trifles are subversive of the great end of biography, which is to fix the attention, and to interest the feelings, of men on those qualities and actions which have made a particular life worthy of being recorded. It is, no doubt, the duty of an honest biographer, to portray the prominent imperfections as well as excellencies of his hero; but I am at a loss to conceive how this can be deemed an excuse for heaping together a multitude of particulars, which can prove nothing of any man that might not have been safely taken for granted of all men. In the present age (emphatically the age of personality) there are more than ordinary motives for withholding all encouragement from this mania of busying ourselves with the names of others, which is still more alarming as a symptom than it is troublesome as a disease. The reader must be still less acquainted with contemporary literature than myself—a case not likely to occur—if he needs me to inform him that there are men who, trading in the silliest anecdotes, in unprovoked abuse and senseless eulogy, think themselves nevertheless employed both worthily and honourably, if only all this be done in good set terms, and from the press, and of public characters,—a class which has increased so rapidly of late, that it becomes difficult to discover what characters are to be considered as private. Alas! if these wretched misusers of language and the means of giving wings to thought,—the means of multiplying the presence of an individual mind,—alas ! had they ever known how great a thing the possession of any one simple truth is, and how mean a thing a mere fact is, except as seen in the light of some comprehensive truth; if they had but once experienced the unborrowed complacency, the inward independence, the home-bred strength, with which every clear conception of the reason is accompanied ; they would shrink from their own pages as at the remembrance of a crime. For a crime it is, (and the man who hesitates in pronouncing it such, must be ignorant of what mankind owe to books, what he himself owes to them in spite of his ignorance,) thus to introduce the spirit of vulgar scandal and personal inquietude into the closet and the library, environing with evil passions the very sanctuaries, to which we should flee for refuge from them. For to what do these publications appeal, whether they present themselves as biography or as anonymous criticism, but to the same feelings which the scandal-bearers and time-killers of ordinary life seek to gratify in themselves and their listeners ? And both the authors and admirers of such publications, in what respect are they less truants and deserters from their own hearts, and from their appointed task of understanding and amending them, than the most garrulous female chronicler of the goings-on of yesterday in the families of her neighbours and townsfolk ?
I have reprinted the following biographical sketch, partly indeed in the hope that it may be the means of introducing to the reader's knowledge, in case he should not have formed an acquaintance with them already, two of the most interesting biographical works in our language, both for the weight of the matter, and the incuriosa felicitas of the style. I refer to Roger North’s Examen, and the Life of his brother, the Lord Keeper Guilford. The pages are all alive with the genuine idioms of our mother-tongue.
A fastidious taste, it is true, will find offence in the occasional vulgarisms, or what we now call slang, which not a few of our writers, shortly after the restoration of Charles II., seem to have affected as a mark of loyalty. These instances, however, are but a trifling drawback. They are not sought for, as is too often and too plainly done by L'Estrange, Collyer, Tom Brown, and their imitators. North never goes out of his way either to seek them or to avoid them; and in the main his language gives us the very nerve, pulse, and sinew of a hearty, healthy, conversational English.
This is my first reason for the insertion of this extract. My other and principal motive may be found in the kindly good-tempered spirit of the passage. But instead of troubling the reader with the painful contrast which so many recollections force on my own feelings, I will refer the character-makers of the present day to the letters of Erasmus and Sir Thomas More to Martin Dorpius, which are commonly annexed to the Encomium Morice; and then for a practical comment on the just and affecting sentiments of these two great men, to the works of Roger North, as proofs how alone an English scholar and gentleman will permit himself to delineate his contemporaries even under the strongest prejudices of party spirit, and though employed on the coarsest subjects. A coarser subject than the Chief Justice Saunders cannot well be imagined ; nor does North use his colours with a sparing or very delicate hand; and yet the final impression is that of kindness.
EXTRACT FROM NORTH'S LIFE OF THE LORD KEEPER
The Lord Chief Justice Saunders succeeded in the room of Pemberton. His character and his beginning were equally strange. He was at first no better than a poor beggar boy, if not a parish foundling, without known parents or relations. He had found a way to live by obsequiousness in Clement's Inn, as I remember, and courting the attorney's clerks for scraps. The extraordinary observance and diligence of the boy made the society willing to do him good. He appeared very ambitious to learn to write ; and one of the attornies got a board knocked up at a window on the top of a stair-case; and that was his desk, where he sat and wrote after copies of court and other hands the clerks gave him. He made himself so expert a writer that he took in business, and earned some pence by hackney-writing. And thus by degrees he pushed his faculties, and fell to forms, and, by books that were lent him, became an exquisite entering clerk; and, by the same course of improvement of himself, an able counsel, first in special pleading, then at large ; and after he was called to the bar, had practice in the King's Bench court equal to any there. As to his person he was very corpulent and beastly; a mere lump of morbid flesh. He used to say, “ By his troggs,” (such a humorous way of talking he affected) “none could say he wanted issue of his body, for he had nine in his back.” He was a fetid mass, that offended his neighbours at the bar in the sharpest degree. Those, whose ill fortune it was to stand near him, were confessors, and, in summer time, almost martyrs. This hateful decay of his carcase came upon him by continual sottishness ; for to say nothing of brandy, he was seldom without a pot of ale at his nose, or near him. That exercise was all he used; the rest of his life was sitting at his desk or piping at home; and that home was a tailor's house in Butcher Row, called his lodging, and the man's wife was his nurse or worse ; but by virtue of his money, of which he made little account, though he got a great deal, he soon became master of the family; and, being no changeling, he never removed, but was true to his friends, and they to him, to the last hour of his life.
* Edit. 1826. vol. ii. p. 41.-Ed.
So much for his person and education. As for his parts, none had them more lively than he. Wit and repartee in an affected rusticity were natural to him. He was ever ready and never at a loss; and none came so near as he to be a match for Serjeant Maynard. His great dexterity was in the art of special pleading, and he would lay snares that often caught his superiors who were not aware of his traps. And he was so fond of success for his clients, that, rather than fail, he would set the court hard with a trick ; for which he met sometimes with a reprimand, which he would wittily ward off, so that no one was much offended with him. But Hale could not bear his irregularity of life; and for that, and suspicion of his tricks, used to bear hard upon him in the court. But no ill usage from the bench was too hard for his hold of business, being such as scarce any could do but himself. With all this, he had a goodness of nature and disposition in so great a degree that he