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Clarendon Edward Hyde

Clarendon, Edward Hyde, First Earl of, was born in 1609. He went to Magdalen College, Oxford, to prepare for the Church, but the death of his two elder brothers left him heir to the paternal estates, so he took to the law, entering at the Middle Temple. He lived in the best literary society of the day, counting among his friends Ben Jonson, Carew, Waller, Selden, Chillingworth, Hales, Falkland, and Land. In 1640 he was returned to Parliament, and joined the popular party. In the Long Parliament he began as a reformer, but when episcopacy was threatened went over to the king, and in 1643 was made Chancellor of the Exchequer. After Naseby he was sent abroad in charge of the Prince of Wales, but he only accompanied him as far as Jersey, where he lived two years, and laid the foundation of his History of the Rebellion. He joined Charles at Dunkirk in 1648. He was despatched next year on a fruitless mission to Spain, and passed two years in that country, composing his Animadversions on the Supremacy of the Pope. Rejoining the Prince in 1651, for nine years he had a difficult task to play in providing for the needs of the court, and in steering his course between Presbyterians and Papists, to both of whom he was obnoxious. In 1658 he received the titular dignity of Lord Chancellor, which he retained after the Restoration, when his chief function was to restrain the intemperate desire of Cavaliers to extinguish Roundheads, and of Episcopalians to annihilate Dissenters. The Corporation Act and the Act of Uniformity brought upon him the hatred of the Presbyterians, whilst the Acts of Indemnity and Oblivion made him even more detested by the disappointed Royalists. The sale of Dunkirk and the marriage of the king with Henrietta of Portugal filled up the measure of his unpopularity. He was suspected, too, of sharing in the bribes which Charles freely accepted from France, and there was an idea that by the union of his daughter with the Duke of York he hoped to place his descendants in the line of succession. He had rapidly been promoted to the Barony of Hyde and the Earldom of Clarendon, though the king was getting weary of his respectability, and owed him a bitter grudge for the supposed frustration of his plan for divorcing the queen and marrying Fanny Stewart. In 1667 he was summoned to surrender the Great Seal, and a few months later was impeached for high treason in the Commons. Though the Lords refused to listen to the charge, he saw that he was in a hopeless case, and fled to France. There he was threatened with expulsion, but ultimately received permission to remain, fixing his abode partly at Rouen, partly at Montpellier, and dying at the former place in 1674. His last years were spent in completing his History and his Meditations on the Psalms, and in writing his Life, his Essays, his Survey of Hobbes's Leviathan, and his Short View of the State of Ireland. Clarendon's character has been the subject of much discussion, but on the whole it must be concluded that, like Bacon, he combined high intellectual and moral gifts with incredible meanness and duplicity. Amidst all the temptations of Charles II.'s court at home and abroad he lived purely and decently. His piety was genuine, and his devotion to the Church of England and to what he conceived to be the English Constitution was unswerving. If he cherished personal ambitions, he frequently sacrificed them to public aims. He wrote masterly papers, spoke readily in debate, and was painstaking in business, but his temper was not always under control, and he lacked sympathy. Proud and cold in his relations with most men, he was abject to servility in his dealings with the king, and his conduct as regards his daughter both before and after her marriage was by his own showing inconsistent with any deep sense of honour. His literary style, though involved and prolix, is seldom obscure, and, while occasionally rising to dignity, almost invariably displays grace, humour, and quiet beauty. As a historian, he was prejudiced, but his facts are in the main correct; and his descriptions of the external characteristics of his contemporaries are peculiarly happy, though his want of sympathy prevents his penetrating below the surface. When he steps beyond politics and society he becomes vapid and common-place.