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NOTES ON NOTE-WORTHIES,
OF DIVERS ORDERS, EITHER SEX, AND EVERY AGE.
BY SIR NATHANIEL.
And make them men of note (do you note, men?).-Love's Labour's Lost, Act III. Sc. 1.
D. Pedro. Or, if thou wilt hold longer argument,
Do it in notes.
Note this before my notes,
There's not a note of mine that's worth the noting. D. Pedro. Why these are very crotchets that he speaks, Notes, notes, forsooth, and noting!
Much Ado About Nothing, Act II. Sc. 3.
And these to Notes are frittered quite away.-Dunciad, Book I.
Notes of assent, notes of interrogation.-Amen Corner, c. iii.
XXIX. THE CHANCELLOR L'HÔPITAL.
To the Chancellor de l'Hôpital is reserved the honour of walking at the head of that illustrious cortége of French magistrates, such as Séguier, Montholon, Pithou, Molé, Harlay, Pasquier, De Thou, &c., who, by the gravity of their lives, their science modeste, and the Roman type in which, for the most part, their characters were cast, formed one of France's purest and least disputed glories. Bred in the naïve tradition of old Gaulish manners, and profound students of antiquity, they conjoined with the loyalty of faithful subjects a sort of rigid virtue, which seemed a relic of the ancient republics. They were, in Montaigne's phrase, "de belles âmes frappées à l'antique marque." That frivolous libertine, Brantôme, styles Michel de l'Hôpital "the greatest and worthiest Chancellor that ever France had. He was another Cato Censor, and had all the look of it, with his great white beard, pale face, and grave demeanour." His anxious countenance, now sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, bespoke the long years during which it had been his wont
To meditate with ardour on the rule
Upon their laws, and fashions of the State.†
France has produced nothing, M. Villemain‡ asserts, of which she has more right to be proud, than cette antique magistrature, which, even under the pressure of absolute power, preserved the image of freedom in the independence of justice; and L'Hôpital, owing to his genius and the age wherein he lived, is in some sort the chief and model of this series of
* Demogeot. † Wordsworth, Prelude, book xi.
Vie de L'Hôpital.
great magistrates, which extended through more than a century, as a public safeguard, amid factions, and coups d'état, and civil war.
Michel de l'Hôpital was born about the year 1505, near the town of Aigueperse, in Auvergne. "The place of his birth is still shown: it is a little manoir, the buildings upon which still preserve, in-doors, the narrow winding staircases of the olden time." His father, a man of learning, and especially addicted to medical studies, owed this domain to the generosity of the Constable Bourbon, whom he had served more in the capacity of counsellor than physician. Michel, the eldest of three sons, was sent to study law at Toulouse, where a flourishing school of high repute then existed, the pupils being severely disciplined in classical literature, by a mode of training not quite so easy or accurate as that pursued under Mr. Temple at Rugby, or Dr. Vaughan at Harrow. At four o'clock in the morning, a winter's morning too, they got up for prayers; prayers over, they attended the classes till eleven; after which they employed themselves in discussing texts and verifying passages-their whole and sole recreation being to read Aristophanes (whom they found full of fun, but fuller of hard words), Sophocles and Euripides, Plautus and Tully.
But while Michel was going through this curriculum at Toulouse, his father got into trouble from his connexion with the proscribed Constable, whom he followed into Italy, thereby exposing his family in France to the immediately outstretched hand of authority. Michel, now aged eighteen years, the eldest son of this obnoxious sire, was clapped into prison as a suspect," and here for some months he languished in green and yellow melancholy-commencing life with cette dure expérience, which must have not a little contributed to instil into him feelings of love for justice and hatred of political and judicial partialities. After several examinations, however, the young man was released, and two years later he obtained leave to quit France and to join his father in Italy. "He was then twenty, but was far from having finished the long course of study to which young men preparing for the learned professions were subjected in the sixteenth century. He found his father at Milan, and was with him in that city when Francis I. came to besiege it.
"Jean de l'Hôpital, though faithful to the Constable Bourbon, had refrained from bearing arms against France, and, no doubt, was still more reluctant to compromise his son's early years in the service of a foreign cause. So he made him quit Milan. L'Hôpital has himself related this story in his will; and the naïve reason he gives is descriptive of the manners of the age: As the siege dragged its slow length along,' says he, 'my father, fearing lest I should lose my time, directed some carriers to bear me off; with whom I got out of Milan in a muleteer's dress, and passed, not without great danger, the River Addá, below the town of Casano, where was stationed a garrison of war.' The object of this perilous exit was to conduct him to Padua, celebrated for its scholars and its university. The glory of the schools of Italy was then unrivalled in Europe: it was in Italy that the study of Roman law had revived in the eleventh century. The multiplicity of little States, the different interests of the sovrans, the free and much-discussed constitutions of some towns, had imparted great importance to the science and general principles of civil law. It there occupied the place of the feudal usages which weighed on nearly all Europe. It had early awakened men's minds by the subtilty
of its controversies, and favoured independence in a land which was to be afterwards enslaved by prejudices and conquest. In Italy the elegance of the beaux-arts mingled with learning, with jurisprudence, and even theology. Politian, the most ingenious of modern Latin poets, and a great Italian one, had written an erudite and profound commentary on the Pandects; and thirty years later Tasso, it is well known, before producing his inspired poem, sustained with éclat some theses in jurisprudence. The universities of Bologna, Modena, Pisa, and Padua were equally renowned for scholarship and politeness. They even exhibited some gleams of a philosophic spirit then unknown in Europe. L'Hôpital remained six years at Padua; and we may unquestionably trace to this studious séjour that taste for ancient literature, and that scholarlike urbanity which ever qualified the austerity of his manners and his works, and which forms so marked a feature in his character."*
Michel's six years at Padua grounded him thoroughly in the science of his profession. When his father, at the end of that time, summoned him to come and assist at Charles the Fifth's coronation at Rome, the old gentleman might with justice say of him-though he said it who shouldn't say it what Bellario (also of Padua) is made to say of his protégé, the pseudo-Balthasar, "I beseech you, let his lack of years be no impediment to let him lack a reverend estimation; for I never knew so young a body with so old a head."+ At Rome young L'Hôpital, already with a reputation for learning, obtained a legal appointment. But he also formed an acquaintance there which was the means of restoring him to his native country. The French ambassador, Cardinal Grammont, fond of literature as well as apt in public affairs, was struck with the "rare merit" of L'Hôpital, und induced him to return to France and practise at the bar of the Parliament of Paris. His prospects now were fair, and full of promise: he married the daughter of the lieutenant-criminel Morin, who had the character of being "one of the most inflexible exécuteurs of the barbarous legislation established against the Protestants. He was of the number of those hard, stubborn spirits who, full of what they then called the good old customs of the realm, believed themselves bound to make the new reformers undergo the cruel punishments decreed of yore against the Manichæans, and would have been fearful they were degenerating from ancient discipline, had they not committed heretics to the flames.
"There can be no doubt," M. Villemain says, "that L'Hôpital moderated eventually his father-in-law's persecuting zeal; but it is not undeserving of remark that the wife he had taken from so anti-Protestant a family, had embraced, and did all her life long profess, the new reform— whether determined in her belief by some unknown motive, or rather, perhaps, that her mild, generous soul had been repulsed from Catholicism by the actual spectacle of severities she had heard talked about from her infancy."+
This marriage made a happy home, and procured L'Hôpital a councillor's seat in the Parliament, where his assiduity, learning, and integrity won the regard of the President Olivier, who, on becoming Chancellor, proved an influential friend to the rising lawyer. But L'Hôpital was no hanger-on of courtly circles, and had other things to do than dance attendance among place-hunters. Such vacant hours as his judiVie de L'Hôpital.
* Villemain. † Merchant of Venice, IV. 1.
cial functions left him, he employed in planning a work on Roman law. When holiday-time allowed him a sojourn at his father-in-law's countryhouse, he resumed with unfailing zest his cherished studies, poetry and general literature. His Latin epistles, written in "an easy Horatian versification," Mr. Hallam considers more interesting than such insipid effusions, whether of flattery or feigned passion, as the majority of modern Latinists present. They are unequal, that discerning critic admits, and fall too often into a creeping style but sometimes we find a spirit and nervousness of strength and sentiment worthy of the Chancellor's name; and though keeping in general to the level of Horatian satire, he rises at intervals to a higher pitch, and wants not the skill of descriptive poetry.* M. Chasles, comparing L'Hôpital in this capacity with De Thou, says, "they both wrote Latin verses full of grace and abandon," and "both of them frequently gave expression, in Virgil's harmonious tongue and with the easy rhythm of Horace, to the grief caused them by the ills of France and the persecutions of their own foes." Indignatio fecit versus. De Thou, by the way, is more suitably, on various accounts, paralleled with L'Hôpital than are many of Plutarch's worthies, one with another. De Thou's eulogist can find no other man of that century to be compared with his hero but Michel de L'Hôpital: to him destiny seems to have united these two good citizens "by a noble and touching concord," and a particular providence to have willed the perpetuity of "this double image of virtue in times of terror." L'Hôpital, the author of ordinances which far outrun all that had hitherto been accomplished, as regards tolerance and impartial equity, prepared by his edicts of Rome rantin and Amboise that more famous edict of Nantes which was drawn up by De Thou. While the latter, still a young man, was "assisting at the results of the Massacre of Saint-Bartholomew's day," the former, in deep seclusion at his estate of Vignay, was dying of a broken heart: the horror that hastened the end of the old man, was imprinted in ineffaceable characters in the soul of the young one. If De Thou was the more celebrated writer, L'Hôpital was the greater jurisconsult. He, "endued with a firm spirit and of a character supple enough and strong enough to make way undaunted athwart the storms of courts," and De Thou, more in love with study than honours, sacrificing his taste for solitude to his duties, and both alike born with a talent for observation," if this worthy pair offer des dissemblances in the salient points of their life, at least they present singular affinities in details of character. Nor to either of them would be wholly inapplicable (with due allowances) what a "rare" poet of our own, De Thou's contemporary, has written of one of England's Lord High Treasurers:
-That mine of wisdom, and of counsels deep,
And legal ways
Of trials, to work down
Men's loves unto the laws, and laws to love the crown.§
* See Hallam's Literature of Europe, vol. ii. part ii. ch. v. § 94.
Ben Jonson: Underwoods.
The Chancellor Olivier gave substantial proof of his estimate of L'Hôpital's business powers, in selecting him as ambassador to the Council of Trent, or rather of Bologna-for to the latter town had the Pope just transferred the sessions of an assembly he would fain withdraw from the Emperor's influence. L'Hôpital's mission thither was futile: the bishops were at loggerheads; some were still for Trent, and with these the Bologna party could come to no terms; so Henri II. recalled his ambassador, and L'Hôpital returned to France, in time to see Olivier's fall—the king's mistress being one too many for that upright old Chancellor, whose disgrace and exile seemed of evil augury for our ex-envoy's fortunes. Michel wanted some such mediator between the Court and himself; a sort of invincible shame-facedness, he tells us, preventing his waiting on great people, or making boast of his services, or showing the aim of his ambition. He was now forty-two, and still merely a Parliament councillor. But just at this crisis a new influence reached him. The Duchess of Berry, Francis the First's daughter, and niece of the celebrated Queen of Navarre, chose L'Hôpital for her Chancellor-for, like her aunt, this lady had an esteem for men of letters, and loved to prove it in the best way she could. At her court he mingled with the most learned men in France, collected there by the same generously eclectic princess. Scholars, whom we now look upon as mere commentators, were then the most enlightened of Frenchmen, and of the greatest service to the early progress of reason; for erudition was the philosophy of that day—an idiom common to the few only, whom at least it seemed to preserve from the prejudices and passions which intoxicated the vulgar herd. Women of illustrious birth, and adorned with all the graces of youth and beauty, used to speak this kind of sacred language with grave magistrates, famous masters, and a few tolerant bishops who laboured under suspicions of heresy. Thus, within an interval of thirty years, we see the Queen of Navarre, the Duchess of Berry and her sister the Princess of Ferrara, Anne Duchess of Guise, and Henry the Fourth's first wife, Margaret of Valois, support with their favour, and animate with their friendly good offices, such men as Erasmus, Budæus, Marot (persecuted as a savant), Paul de Foix (littérateur and great statesman), Amyot, De Thou, the learned and ill-starred Ramus, one of the St. Bartholomew victims, and many another then renowned but now forgotten name. * The Court of L'Hôpital's patroness was not quite so loose-laced as Aunt Margaret's had been; fewer contes badins and love-stories were told there, but there was a deal of reading and learned conversation. L'Hôpital occasionally took his wife and daughter with him, and the Duchess would embrace them, and complain to them that her Chancellor kept too much aloof from the world and its honours, and was (for his and their interest) far too averse from looking out for the high employments which his rare knowledge and integrity deserved. She took care, for her part, however, to commend him heartily to her brother the King, and Henry at once gave him a berth, and admitted him at Court. Anon his Majesty made him surintendant of finance in the Chambre des Comptes-a new and important office, the duties of which had previously been combined with those of Keeper of the Seals. The Cardinal of Lorraine was at that time supreme in the