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TABLE-TALK OF JOHN SELDEN.
BOOK of Apothegms is an armoury of thoughts more or less felicitously expressed. Rightly read, it acts as a tonic on the mind. The subjects are so dif
connected and follow the one the other so rapidly: the opinions and arguments are so incisively expressed, and are often so apparently contradictory and paradoxical : that the whole work becomes hard to read, and still harder to digest. Rapid reading of such condensed thought is unproductive; careful study, however, makes it both enjoyable and fruitful : and that in proportion to the activity of the reader's mind.
It is clear, therefore, that Apothegms are rather suby jects for consideration than articles for belief. They must be thoroughly examined. They must be, so to speak, unravelled and unfolded, that their inwrapped principles may be understood in their nature, applications, and consequences; in order that concinnated speech may not beguile us from truth, or aphorisms charm us into injustice and error.
It is further evident, that our final judgment of the opinions of the Author must be suspended until we thus possess his whole work. In particular, in the present instance, we should not forget that we have but stray fragments of talk, separated from the context of casual and unrestrained conversations; collected -probably without the Speaker's knowledge—one, two, or three at a time, over a period of twenty years; and classified long afterwards, as seemed best to their Preserver.
These Sayings were published thirty-five years after Selden's death, and nine years after their recorderthe Rev. Richard Milward, S.T.P., who died Canon of Windsor, Rector of Great Braxted, and Vicar of Isleworth—had passed away. While they are, therefore, thus doubly posthumous in publication, they must be long antedated in utterance. Table-Talk belongs chiefly, if not entirely, to 1634—1654, and therefore, appertains to the first rather than the second half of the Seventeenth century.
These Discourses show somewhat of the mind, but not the whole mind of Selden, even in the subjects treated of. What must have been the fulness of information, the aptness of illustration, the love of truth, the justness of reasoning, when such fragments as these could be picked up by a casual hearer? acon's Effays are most carefully finished compositions : Selden's Table-Talk is the spontaneous incidental out pouring of an overflowing mind ; and yet it may noť unworthily compare with the former.
Passing by acute insight into human nature, and great antiquarian research, can we gather, however imperfectly, from the present work, any idea as to what Selden's main opinions were ? We think we may
In this work, as elsewhere, John Selden is the Champion of Human Law. It fell to his lot to live in a time when the life of England was convulsed, for years together, beyond precedent; when men searched after the ultimate and essential conditions and frames of human fociety; when each strove fiercely for his rights, and then as dogmatically asserted them.
Amidst immense, preposterous, and inflated assumptions; through the horrid tyranny of the system of the Thorough; in the exciting debates of Parliament; in all the storm of the Civil War; in the still fiercer jarring of religious sects; amidst all the phenomena of that age ; Selden clung to the Law of the Kingdom.' * All is as the State pleases.' He advocates the fupremacy of Human Law against the so-called doctrin of Divine Right. He thrusts out the Civil Power against all Ecclesiastical pretensions, and raising it to be the highest authority in the State, denies the exil .ence of any other co-ordinate power. So strongly does he assert the power of the Nation to do or not to do, that, for the purpose of his argument, he reduces Re ligion almost to a habit of thought, to be assumed or cast off, like a fashion in dress, at will. “So Religion was brought into kingdoms, so it has been continued, and so it may be cast out, when the State pleases.'* “The Clergy tell the Prince they have Physick g od for his Soul, and good for the Souls of his People, uj ors that he admits them: but when he finds by Experie ice they both trouble him and his People, he will have no more to do with them, what is that to them or any body else if a King will not go to Heaven 't “The State ftill makes the Religion and receives into it, what will best agree with it.' S
Selden lodges the Civil Power of England, in the King and the Parliament. He shews that our English Constitution is but one great Contract between two equal Princes, the Sovereign and the People ; and that if that Contract be broken, both parties are ct parity again. That, by a like consent, the majority in England governs; the minority assenting to the judgement of the majority, and being involved in their decision. Finally, reducing all relationships to like mutual Agreements, he urges the keeping of Contracts, as the essential bond of Human society. Keep your Faith.'
The way these views are enforced, fully justifies Lord Clarendon's opinion of him, that ‘in his Conversation He was the most clear Discourser, and had the best Faculty in making hard Things easy, and presenting them to the Understanding, of any Man that bath been known.' *
+ P. 36. § P. 130.
* P. 29.
THE TABLE-TALK OF JOHN SELDE N.
* Editions not seen.
(a) Issues in the author's Itfetime.
I. As a separate publication. 1. 1689. London.
Editio princeps : see title on opposite I vol. 4to. page. 2. 1696. London. • The Second Edition' of No. 1.
I vol. 8vo. Printed for Jacob Tonson. 3. *1698. London. According to British Museum Cata.
I vol. 8vo. logue. 4. 1716. London. "The Third Edition' of No. 1.
I vol. 12mo. Printed for Jacob Tonson. 6. *1786. London. With a life of the Author. Lowndes.
I vol. Izmo. 7. *1789. London. With a dedication to C. J., Esq.,
I vol. 24mo. printed in red letter. Lowndes. 8. *1819. Edinburgh. With notes by DAVID IRVING, LL.D.
I vol. 12mo. 9. 1847. London. The Table-Talk of John Selden I vol. 8vo. Esqre., with a biographical preface and
notes by S. W. SINGER Esqre. 10. *1847. London.
Table-Talk. English Catalogue. I vol. 32mo. 11. 1854. Edinburgh. The Table Talk of John Selden: I vol. 8vo. with notes by DAVID IRVING, LL.D.
Another edition of No. 8. 12. 1856. London. Library of Old Authors. Second
I vol. 8vo. edition of No. 9, 13. 1860. London. Library of Old Authors. Third
I vol. 8vo. edition of No. 9. 14. 1 June, 1868. London. Englis Reprints : see title on page 1.
I vol. 8vo.
II. With other works. 5. 1726. Londini. Joannis Seldeni Iurisconsulti_opera 3 vols. (6 parts) fol. omnia, tam edita quam inedita. Edited
· Table Talk' occupies iii. 2000—2080. It is strange, that but for the efforts of two gentlemen, Dr. Irving and Mr. Singer, only a single edition of the Table
by Rev. DAVID WILKINS, S. T. P. 'Archdeacon of Suffolk, &c.
alk' would ha appeared this century. The neglect of our English masterpieces of thought is a thing incredible.