Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
 
Clarendon’s Early Manhood
By Edward Hyde, Lord Clarendon (1609–1674)
 
From the Life

UNDER this universal acquaintance and general acceptation, Mr. Hyde led for many years as cheerful and pleasant a life as any man did enjoy, as long as the kingdom took any pleasure in itself. His practice grew every day as much as he wished, and would have been much more if he had wished it, by which he not only supported his expense, greater much than men of his rank and pretences used to make, but increased his estate by some convenient purchases of land adjoining to his other; and he grew so much in love with business and practice that he gave up his whole heart to it; resolving by a course of severe study, to recover the time he had lost upon less profitable learning, and to intend nothing else but to reap all those benefits to which that profession could carry him, and to the pursuing whereof he had so many and so unusual encouragements; and towards which it was not the least that God had blessed him with an excellent wife, who perfectly resigned herself to him, and who then had brought him, before any troubles in the kingdom, three sons and a daughter, which he then and ever looked upon as his greatest blessing and consolation.
  1
  Because we shall have little cause hereafter to mention any other particulars in the calm part of his life, whilst he followed the study and practice of the law, it will not in this place appear a very impertinent digression to say that he was, in that very time when fortune seemed to smile and to intend well towards him, and often afterwards, throughout the whole course of his life, wont to say that, “when he reflected upon himself and his past actions, even from the time of his first coming to the Middle Temple, he had much more cause to be terrified upon the reflection than the man who had viewed Rochester bridge in the morning that it was broken, and which he had galloped over in the night; that he had passed over more precipices than the other had done, for many nights and days and some years together; from which nothing but the immediate hand of God could have preserved him.” For though it is very true the persons before mentioned were the only men in whose company, in those seasons of his life, he took delight, yet he frequently found himself in the conversation of worse, and, indeed, of all manner of men; and it being in the time when the war was entered into against the two crowns, and the expeditions made to, and unprosperous returns from, Cadiz and the Isle of Rhè, the town was full of soldiers, and of young gentlemen who intended to be soldiers, or as like them as they could; great license used of all kinds, in clothes, in diet, in gaming, and all kinds of expenses equally carried on by men who had fortunes of their own to support it, and by others who, having nothing of their own, cared not what they spent whilst they could find credit: so that there was never an age in which, in so short a time, so many young gentlemen, who had not experience in the world, or some good tutelar angel to protect them, were insensibly and suddenly overwhelmed in that sea of wine, and women, and quarrels, and gaming, which almost overspread the whole kingdom and the nobility and gentry thereof. And when he had, by God’s immediate blessing, disentangled himself from these labyrinths, (his nature and inclination disposing him rather to pass through those dissolute quarters than to make any stay in them), and was enough composed against any extravagant excursions; he was still conversant with a rank of men (how worthy soever) above his quality, and engaged in an expense above his fortune, if the extraordinary accidents of his life had not supplied him for those excesses; so that it brought no prejudice upon him, except in the censure of severe men, who thought him a person of more license than in truth he was, and who, in a short time, were very fully reconciled to him.  2
  He had without doubt great infirmities, which, by a providential mercy, were reasonably restrained from growing into vices, at least into any that were habitual. He had ambition enough to keep him from being satisfied with his own condition, and to raise his spirit to great designs of raising himself; but not to transport him to endeavour it, by any crooked and indirect means. He was never suspected to flatter the greatest men, or in the least degree to dissemble his own opinions or thoughts, how ingrateful soever it often proved; and even an affected defect in, and contempt of those two useful qualities cost him dear afterwards. He indulged his palate very much, and took even some delight in eating and drinking well, but without any approach to luxury; and, in truth, rather discoursed like an epicure, than was one; having spent much time in the eating hours with the earl of Dorset, the Lord Conway, and the Lord Lumley; men who excelled in gratifying their appetites. He had a fancy, sharp and luxuriant, but so carefully cultivated and strictly guarded, that he never was heard to speak a loose or profane word, which he imputed to the chastity of the persons where his conversation usually was, where that rank sort of wit was religiously detested; and a little discountenance would quickly root those unsavoury weeds out all discourses where persons of honour are present.  3
  He was in his nature inclined to pride and passion, and to a humour between wrangling and disputing very troublesome, which good company in a short time so much reformed and mastered, that no man was more affable and courteous to all kind of persons, and they who knew the great infirmity of his whole family, which abounded in passion, used to say, he had much extinguished the unruliness of that fire. That which supported and rendered him generally acceptable was his generosity (for he had too much a contempt of money), and the opinion men had of the goodness and justice of his nature, which was transcendent in him, in a wonderful tenderness, and delight in obliging. His integrity was ever without blemish, and believed to be above temptation. He was firm and unshaken in his friendships, and, though he had great candour towards others in the differences of religion, he was zealously and deliberately fixed in the principles, both of the doctrine and discipline of the church: yet he used to say to his nearest friends, in that time, when he expected another kind of calm for the remainder of his life, “though he had some glimmering light of, and inclination to virtue in his nature, that the whole progress of his life had been full of desperate hazards: and that only the merciful hand of God Almighty had prevented his being both an unfortunate and a vicious man”; and he still said that “God had vouchsafed that signal goodness to him, for the piety and exemplar virtue of his father and mother”; whose memory he had always in veneration: and he was pleased with what his nearest ally and bosom friend, Sergeant Hyde (who was afterwards chief justice of the King’s Bench), used at that time to say of him, that his cousin had passed his time very luckily and with notable success, and was like to be very happy in the world; but he would never advise any of his friends to walk in the same paths, or to tread in his steps.  4
  It was about the year 1639, when he was little more than thirty years of age, and when England enjoyed the greatest measure of felicity that it had ever known: the two crowns of France and Spain worrying each other by their mutual incursions and invasions; whilst they had both a civil war in their own bowels; the former, by frequent rebellions from their own factions and animosities, the latter, by the defection of Portugal, and both laboured more to ransack and burn each other’s dominions than to extinguish their own fire. All Germany weltering in its own blood, and contributing to each other’s destruction, that the poor crown of Sweden might grow great out of their ruins, and at their charge; Denmark and Poland being adventurers in the same destructive enterprises. Holland and the United Provinces, wearied and tired with their long and chargeable war, how prosperous soever they were in it; and beginning to be more afraid of France, their ally, than of Spain, their enemy. Italy every year infested by the arms of Spain and France, which divided the princes thereof into the several factions.  5
  Of all the princes of Europe, the king of England alone seemed to be seated upon that pleasant promontory that might safely view the tragic sufferings of all his neighbours about him, without any other concernment than what arose from his own princely heart and Christian compassion, to see such desolation wrought by the pride, and passion, and ambition of private persons, supported by princes who knew not what themselves would have. His three kingdoms flourishing in entire peace and universal plenty, in danger of nothing but their own surfeits, and his dominions every day enlarged, by sending out colonies upon large and fruitful plantations; his strong fleets commanding all seas; and the numerous shipping of the nation bringing the trade of the world into his ports; nor could it with unquestionable security be carried any whither else; and all these blessings enjoyed under a prince of the greatest clemency and justice, and of the greatest piety and devotion, and the most indulgent to his subjects and most solicitous for their happiness and prosperity.
        O fortunati nimium, bona si sua norint. 1
  6
  In this blessed conjuncture, when no other prince thought he wanted anything to compass what he most desired to be possessed of, but the affection and friendship of the king of England, a small, scarce discernible cloud arose in the north, which was shortly after attended with such a storm that never gave over raging till it had shaken, and even rooted up the greatest and tallest cedars of the three nations; blasted all its beauty and fruitfulness, brought its strength to decay, and its glory to reproach, and almost to desolation, by such a career and deluge of wickedness and rebellion, as by not being enough foreseen, or in truth suspected, could not be prevented.  7
 
Note 1. O fortunati nimium, etc. = O generation, exceeding happy, if only they knew their own mercies. [back]
 
 
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