Page:History of England (Macaulay) Vol 4.djvu/442

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say. It seems however that, though he bore the title and drew the salary of Secretary of State, he was not trusted with any of the graver secrets of State, and that he was little more than a superintendent of police, charged to look after the printers of unlicensed books, the pastors of nonjuring congregations, and the haunters of treason taverns.[1]

Another Whig of far higher character was called at the same time to a far higher place in the administration. The Great Seal had now been four years in commission. Since Maynard's retirement, the constitution of the Court of Chancery had commanded little respect. Trevor, who was the First Commissioner, wanted neither parts nor learning: but his integrity was with good reason suspected; and the duties, which, as Speaker of the House of Commons, he had to perform during four or five months in the busiest part of every year, made it impossible for him to be an efficient judge in equity. The suitors complained that he had to wait a most unreasonable time for a judgment, and that, when at length a judgment had been pronounced, it was very likely to be reversed on appeal. Meanwhile there was no minister of justice, no great functionary to whom it especially belonged to advise the King as to the appointment of judges, of Counsel for the Crown, of Justices of the Peace.[2] It was known that William was sensible of the inconvenience of this state of things; and, during several months, there had been flying rumours that a Lord Keeper or a Lord Chancellor would soon be appointed.[3] The name most frequently mentioned was that of Nottingham. But the reasons which had prevented him from accepting the Great Seal in 1689 had, since that year, rather gained than lost strength. William at length fixed his choice on Somers.

Somers was only in his forty-second year; and five years had not elapsed since, on the great day of the trial of the Bishops, his powers had first been made known to the world. From that time his fame had been steadily and rapidly rising.

  1. Burnet, ii. 108, and Speaker Onslow's Note; Sprat's True Account of the Horrid Conspiracy; Letter to Trenchard, 1694.
  2. Burnet, ii. 107.
  3. These rumours are more than once mentioned in Narcissus Luttrell's Diary.