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General Remonstrance, but he saw with alarm the rapid drifting of both parties towards the stern arbitrament of war. He regarded with disapproval the action of the House of Commons (February, 1642) in nominating the lord-lieutenants of the counties, for here it obviously encroached upon the royal prerogative; but, on the other hand, he denounced as equally unconstitutional the commissions of arms issued by the king. His speech on this subject produced a powerful effect, both in Parliament and the country, while it so disturbed the king that, with his consent and at his instigation, Lord Falkland addressed to him a letter inquiring into the grounds of his opposition. In reply, Selden repeated the arguments he had used in his speech, and added that he disputed in the same manner the legality of the ordinance of Parliament for appointing the lieutenants, stigmatising it as “without sbadow of law or pretence of precedent.”
In the crisis of a great revolution, moderate men are nowhere. Both parties feel that he who is not with them is against them, and cannot brook the implied or spoken rebuke of the man who stands aside and refuses to cast in his lot with either. They resent his conduct, moreover, as indicating a consciousness of superior wisdom. When Edmund Waller's plot to arm the London citizens and seize the persons of the parliamentary leaders was discovered (31st May, 1643), Selden was suspected, along with Whitelocke and Pierpoint, of being implicated in it. The House, however, was satisfied with Waller's explanation, “that he did come one evening to Selden's study, where Pierpoint and Whitclocke then were with Selden, to propose to impart it to them all, and speaking of such a thing in general terms, these gentle
men did so inveigh against any such thing as treachery and baseness, and that which might be the occasion of shedding much blood, that he durst not, for the respect he had for Selden and the rest, communicate any of the particulars to them, but was almost disheartened himself to proceed in it.” That Selden would have taken part in such a conspiracy was very improbable; but no doubt his want of ardour led to a suspicion of his faithlessness. The House, however, in acknowledgment of his scholarship, appointed him to the office of Keeper of the Records in the Tower; and he on his part proved his fidelity to the popular cause by subscribing with his colleagues, in St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, on the 28th of September, 1644, the Solemn League and Covenant, by which, as the price of the Scotch Alliance, it was agreed to bring the Churches of God in the three kingdoms “ to the nearest conjunction and conformity in religion, confession of faith, form of Church government, direction for worship, and catechising, that we, and our posterity after us, may as brethren live in faith and love, and the Lord may delight to live in the midst of us. After undertaking to extirpate Popery, Prelacy, superstition, and schism, and to preserve the rights and privileges of the Parliament, and the liberties of the kingdom, the subscribers declared it to be their “ true unfeigned purpose, desire, and endeavour, both in public and private, in all duties they owed to God and man to amend their lives, and each to go before another in the example of a real reformation." To Selden, as a Churchman, it must have been bitterness itself to have subscribed a document which provided for the abolition of Episcopacy, but events had proved too powerful for him. Thenceforward, however, he seem gradually to have abandoned the political stage. It is certain that he had no sympathy with the vehement action of the party led by Vane, and Cromwell, Fairfax, Ludlow, and Ireton ; the execution of Charles I., and the downfall of the monarchy must have been a death-blow to all his views and hopes of constitutional reform. He made no protest against these measures, nor did he join the king's party, whose violent proceedings were not less distasteful to him ; but he retired from the din and fury of the conflict, to find peace and consolation in his beloved studies.
Even in the press of political duties he had not wholly deserted them. His pen had never ceased its activity. . In 1640, he had published a wonderfully learned discourse on the Hebrew polity, civil and religious, under the title of “ De Jure Naturali et Gentium, juxta Disciplinam Hebræorum, libri septem;" and in 1642, had translated into Latin from the Arabic, a tract of the Patriarch Eutychius upon certain disputed questions of ecclesiastical antiquities. To continue the catalogue of his contributions, which, however, can have but little interest for the general reader, in 1644, he published “De Anno Civili Veteris Ecclesice, seu Reipublico Judaicoe Dissertatio" (“ On the Civil Year of the Ancient Church, or a Dissertation on the Jewish Commonwealth "); and in 1646, bis “U.cor Hebraica, seu de Nuptiis et Divortiis ex Jure Civili, id est Divino et Talmudico, Veterum Ebræorum, libri tres.” In the following year he published an edition of William de Brampton's “ Fleta," with an elaborate preliminary dissertation. His great work, “ De Synedriis et Prefecturis juridicis veterum Hebræorum,” was given to the world in 1650 ; and in 1652 he terminated his long literary labours with the “ Vindicia Maris Clausi,” a reply to attacks upon the “ Mare Clausum.”
The closing years of his life Selden spent under the roof of the Dowager-Countess of Kent, whose legal adviser he was, and to whom, it is said, he was privately married. In the summer of 1654, his constitution, never very robust, began to give way ; and feeling that his end was near, he sent for two of his old friends, Archbishop Ussher and Dr. Langbaine, with whom he held many discussions upon religious matters. His faith in the promises of Christianity was strong and deep. He said that he had his study full of books and papers on most subjects in the world; yet at that time he could not recollect any passage wherein he could rest his soul, save out of the Holy Scriptures, wherein the most remarkable passage that lay most upon his spirit was Titus ii. 11, 12, 13, 14. His friend Whitelocke visited him to take his directions relative to his temporal affairs, but Selden was then too weak. He expired on the last day of November, 1654, and on the 14th of December, was buried in the Temple Church, London, the Master of the Temple reading the service, and Archbishop Ussher preaching the funeral sermon.
Selden left a considerable fortune, principally acquired, it is said, through his connection with the family of the Earl of Kent. His valuable library he had intended to bequeath to the Bodleian; but having taken umbrage at the refusal of the loan of a MS., because he had omitted the usual pledge to restore it safely, he left his books to his executors, Edward Hayward, John Vaughan, and Sir Matthew Hale, who, wisely regarding themselves as “the executors not of his anger, but of his will,” carried out his original design, and removed them to the Bodleian. There they were arranged by Anthony à Ward, who tells us that he « laboured several weeks with Mr. Thomas Barlow and others in sorting them, carrying them upstairs, and placing them. In opening some of the books they found several pair of spectacles, which Mr. Selden had put in and forgotten to take out. Wood records that on the title or first
of all his books Selden was accustomed to write his favourite motto-περι παντος την ελευθεριαν.
Though Selden was, as Ben Jonson wittily said, “the law-book of the judges," and though his legal and antiquarian works are written in the driest and crabbedest style that was ever called English, he was something more than a Dryasdust and a lawyer. We have seen that he was an enlightened politician, and, notwithstanding his constitutional timidity, on the whole a steadfast and consistent one. The principle which governed his political conduct was sound and safe: that all reforms should be the natural developments or applications of the ancient laws of England. Thus he became, to use Professor Arber's expression, the “Champion of Human Law," and it is to his immortal honour that, in a time of convulsion and unrest, he adhered, without change or hesitation, to the “law of the kingdom,” which embodied the rights and privileges won by generations of Englishmen. He advocated the supremacy of the constitution over the so-called doctrine of Divine right. Against ecclesiastical pretensions he opposed the civil power, and, exalting it to the highest position in the State, denied the existence of any coordinate authority. So strongly did he maintain the supreme power of the nation, that, for the purpose of his argument, he reduced religion almost to a habit of thought, which might be assumed or cast off at pleasure. religion,” he says, " was brought into the kingdom, so it has been continued, and so it may be cast out, when the State pleases.” Again, “The clergy tell the prince they