Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 51.djvu/230
and had the best faculty in making hard things easy, and presenting them to the understanding of any man that hath been known. Mr. Hyde was wont to say that he valued himself upon nothing more than upon having had Mr. Selden's acquaintance from the time he was very young, and held it with great delight as long as they were suffered to continue together in London; and he was very much troubled always when he heard him blamed, censured, and reproached for staying in London and in the parliament after they were in rebellion, and in the worst times, which his age obliged him to do; and how wicked soever the actions were which were every day done, he was confident he had not given his consent to them, but would have hindered them if he could with his own safety, to which he was always enough indulgent. If he had some infirmities with other men, they were weighed down with wonderful and prodigious abilities and excellencies in the other scale.'
The tone adopted by him in his discussion of ecclesiastical questions, the devout language of his last will, and the circumstances of his deathbed, all seem to show that he was a genuine believer in Christianity as a religion having a divine origin, though he thought far otherwise of the particular modes of government and of the ceremonies of the church. His latitudinarian views, coupled probably with a cynical mode of speaking on the questions which were so keenly debated in his time, together with the fact that Selden was on friendly terms as well with Hobbes as with Archbishop Ussher, are probably the source of the rumour that Selden 'was at the heart an infidel and inclined to the opinions of Hobbs.' Sir Matthew Hale, says Richard Baxter, 'oft professed to me that Mr. Selden was a resolved, serious Christian, and that he was a great adversary to Hobbs's errors, and that he had seen him openly oppose him so earnestly as either to depart from him or drive him out of the room' (Baxter's App. to the 'Life and Death of Hale,' Hale's Works, 1805, i. 112).
In politics, if Selden did not exhibit the character of a hero, a martyr, or a saint, he played the part of an honest man. The fact that he was consulted alike by the commons on their rights and by the lords on their privileges is a remarkable testimony not only to his learning, but to his freedom from party bias. He seems in all cases to have maintained what he believed to be the right, and to have been diverted from this course neither by the hope of popular applause nor by the favour of the court, nor by resentment for wrongs by which many men would have been soured. His desire was for an ordered liberty, and that he thought was to be found in the ancient constitution of the country. He had no democratic feeling, and no admiration for the great mass of mankind. 'So generous,' he says, 'so ingenuous, so proportioned to good, such fosterers of virtue, so industrious, of such mold are the few; so inhuman, so blind, so dissembling, so vain, so justly nothing but what's ill disposition are the most' (Dedication to Titles of Honour). Nor did he cherish the sanguine belief which characterises the zealous reformer, that all change is for the better and that all movement is forward. On the contrary, he had perhaps to a degree unusual even with Englishmen the love of precedent; he felt that in the records of the race was to be found the only remedy for the shortness of the life of the individual. 'The neglect or only vulgar regard,' he says, 'of the fruitful and precious part of it [antiquity] which gives necessary light to the present in matter of state, law, history, and the understanding of good authors, is but preferring that kind of ignorance which our short life alone allows us before the many ages of former experience and observation, which may so accumulate years to us as if we had lived even from the beginning of time' (Dedication to History of Tythes).
Selden from first to last reserved to himself that leisure which is needful for the life of a student. But, while jealous of his studious leisure, he carried on a considerable correspondence with friends. Ben Jonson, Archbishop Ussher, Lord Conway, the universal correspondent Peiresc, Dr. Langbaine, Whitelocke, and Gerard Vossius were among his correspondents. The fragments which have survived of his correspondence with Eliot exhibit Selden in the pleasing light of a man to whom his friends turned with the certainty that his time, his trouble, and his learning would willingly be given to aid them, or even their friends. 'His mind,' says Wood, 'was as great as his learning—full of generosity, and harbouring nothing that seemed base.' So, too, in money matters Selden, though he died rich, appears to have been neither greedy in acquiring nor stingy in the spending of money, and he appears to have been liberal in his assistance to literary enterprises, such as the publication of the 'Septuagint.'
In person Selden is described by Aubrey as 'very tall—I guess six foot high—sharp, oval face, head not very big, long nose inclining to one side, full popping eie' (i.e. grey eyes). The following are the chief known