Somers, John Lord

, an eminent English lawyer, was born at Worcester, March 4, 1650, but no register of his baptism can be found. A house called White Ladies is shown on the east side of the cathedral, and very near St. MichaePs church, where he is said to have been born. His father, John Somers, was an attorney of considerable eminence, and had an estate of about 300l. per ann. at Clifton. During the rebellion he commanded a troop of horse, part of Cromwell’s army, but resigned his commission after the battle of Worcester, and returned to his profession, and, among other business, had the superintendance of the finances and estates of the Talbots, earls of Shrewsbury, which eventually produced a lasting friendship and cordiality between the duke of Shrewsbury and his son, the subject of this article. Of old Mr. Somers the following anecdote has been recorded: “He used to frequent the terms in London, and in his way from Worcester was wont to leave his horse at the George, at Acton, where he often made mention of the hopeful son he had at the Temple. Cobbet, who kept the inn, hearing him enlarge so much in praise of his son, to compliment the old gentleman, cried, ` Why wont you let us see him, Sir?‘ The father, to oblige his merry landlord, desired the young gentleman to accompany him so far on his way home; and being come to the George, took his landlord aside, and said, ’ I have brought him, Cobbet, but you must not talk to him as you do to me; he will not sutler such fellows as you in his company‘.” After the restoration Mr. Somers obtained a pardon for what he might have committed while in the republican army, which pardon is still in the possession of the family. He died Jan. 1681, and was buried at Severnstoke, in the county of Worcester; where an elegant Latin inscription, engraved on a marble monument, and written by his son, is still to be seen.

In 1675, Mr. (afterwards lord) Somers, was entered as a commoner of Trinity-college, Oxford. In the year following he is known to have contributed 5l. towards the embellishment of the chapel and some years afterwards, as appears by the bursar’s book, 100l. more.It is said that he did not entirely quit the university until 1682, and | had in the interim become a student of law in the Middle Temple, and returning to college took his degree of M. A, June 14, 1681. While studying- law, he never neglected the belles lettres, and it was by his amusements in that way, his translations, and poetical performances, that he first became known to the public At that time merit of this kind was a passport both to tame and riches, and Mr. Somers, who in some degree owed his promotion to the muses, showed himself not ungrateful when he endeavoured to raise into notice their favourite votary Addison. Sir Francis Winnington, then solicitor, was one of his earliest patrons. By such assistance, united to his own merit and application, he became, what was very rarely seen in those days, when a deeper legal knowledge was supposed essential to a barrister, an eminent counsel, before he had attained the age of thirty. It is imagined by some, that his early acquaintance vvth the duke of Shrewsbury, might have contributed to turn his attention to the law, and possibly accelerated his rapid progress in that profession. His abilities, however, and powerful oratory, were always exerted in favour of liberty, and in the support of that rational freedom which is equally opposed to licentiousness and slavery.

Having formed an acquaintance with lord Russell, Algernon Sidney, and other supporters of liberty at that time, he frequently employed his pen against the arbitrary proceedings of the reign of Charles II.; but as it was his practice to publish such pieces without his name, very few of them are now known, and these we shall notice at the conclusion of this article. In 1688, when in his thirtysixth year, he distinguished himself as counsel for the seven prelates who were tried for opposing the dispensing power of James II. He had afterwards a considerable share in concerting the measures for bringing about the revolution. He was chosen representative for his native city of Worcester, in the convention-parliament; and in the conference between the two houses about the word abdicated, on which he delivered a celebrated speech, he was appointed one of the managers for the House of Commons.

On the accession of king William, Mr. Somers was rewarded for his exertions, by being, on May 9, 1689, made solicitor-general, elected recorder of Gloucester in 1690, appointed attorney-general, on May 2, 1692, and lordkeeper in 1693. We may judge of his popularity, his | activity, and political skill, by the following expression of lord Sunderland, in a letter to king William, written about this period: “Lord Somers,” says he, “is the life, the soul, the spirit of his party; and can answer for it” A character of such influence was not to be neglected by a yet unestablished monarch, and accordingly king William, who had conferred the honour of knighthood on Mr. Somers when solicitor-general, now created him baron of Evesham, and lord chancellor of England. For the support of these dignities and honours, his majesty made him a grant of the manors of Ryegate and Howlegh, in Surrey, and another grant of 2, 100l. per annum out of the fee-farm rents of the crown. Lord Orford, in a note on his very flippant character of lord Somers, thinks these grants formed an alloy, but has not told us how lord Somers’s rank was to be kept up without them. “One might as well,” observes lord Hardwicke, “lay a heavy charge on his father’s (sir Robert Walpole) memory, for the grants of lucrative offices obtained for his family, and taking a pension when he resigned. Lord Somers raised no more from his offices and grants than a fortune which enabled him to live with decency and elegance.

Before the king’s departure for Holland, in the summer of the year 1697, his majesty communicated to lord Somers a proposition made by count Tallard, to prevent a war about the succession to the crown of Spain, upon the death of the then monarch of that kingdom; and the chancellor afterwards received a letter from his majesty, then in Holland, informing him, that fresh offers had been made to the same purpose; and requiring him to dispatch full powers, under the great seal, with the names in blank, to empower his majesty to treat with the before mentioned Count. This order he accordingly complied with; and the negociations being immediately entered upon, a treaty was concluded. This was the first Partition-treaty; and in the next session of parliament, which began Nov. 16, 1699, great complaints were made in the House of Commons against the chancellor; and the House being resolved, on Dec. 6, to push the resumption of the grants of the Irish forfeited estates, by tacking it to the land-tax-bill, an address was concerted on April 10, 1700, praying, that “John lord Somers, lord chancellor of England, should be removed for ever from his majesty’s presence and councils;” but the majority of the House voted against any such address. | However, the parliament being prorogued the next day, his majesty sent for the lord chancellor, and desired him to surrender the seals voluntarily; but this his lordship declined, thinking that it would imply a consciousness of guilt, He told the king, however, that whensoever his majesty should send a warrant under his hand, commanding him to deliver them up, he would immediately obey it. Accordingly an order was brought to him for this purpose by lord Jersey, upon which the seals were sent to the king. Thus was lord Somers removed from the post of chancellor, the duties of which he had discharged with great integrity and ability; and although this was contrary to the king’s inclinations to make such a sacrifice, “was not sufficient to appease the tory party, who now formed a design to impeach him. This his lordship in some measure anticipated, by sending, os> April 14, 1701, a message to the House of Commons, in which,” having heard tiiat the House was in a debate concerning him, he desired that he might be admitted and heard.“This was granted, and a chair being set by the Serjeant, a little wittiin the bar on the left hand, he had directions to acquaint lord Somers r that he might come in; and on his entrance the Speaker informed him, that he might repose himself in the chair provided for him. His lordship then defended himself with respect to his share in concluding the partition-treaty, which was the principal charge against him in that House, and, according to Burnet,” spoke so fully aud clearly, that, upon his withdrawing, it was believed, if the question had been quickly put, the whole matter had b*>en soon at an end, aud that the prosecution would have been let fall. But his enemies drew out the debate to such a length, that the impression, which his speech had made, was much worn out; and the House sitting till it was past midnight, they at last carried it by a majority of seven or eight to impeach him."

On the lyth of May following, the articles of impeachment against lord Somers were carried to the House of Peers, but a misunderstanding arising between the two Houses, he was acquitted by the Lords, without any farther prosecution of the Commons. King William dying not long after, lord Somers, not being a favourite at the new court, withdrew from public life, and spent much of his time at his seat near Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, in the study of history, antiquities, and polite literature. From 1698 to 1703 he had sat as president of the Royal Society, | of which he had been elected a fellow in the first of these years. He still continued his attendance in the House of Peers, where he opposed the bill to prevent occasional nonconformity; and was one of the managers for the Lords, in the conference between the two Houses upon that bill in 1702. In 1706 he projected the plan for the union of England and Scotland, and was appointed by queen Anne one of the managers. The same year he introduced a bill for preventing delays and expences in proceedings at law: and also some regulations with regard to passing private acts of parliament.

Upon a change of measures in 1708, he was again called into office, and appointed president of the council. But the whig interest, of which he was the chief support, began now rapidly to decline. The same engine was played off against it, which has so often since been the last resource of party animosity. The empty splendours of conquest were derided; and the people warned that, while they joined in the huzza of victory, they were impoverishing themselves merely to enrich a few creatures of the minister. Swift had no small concern in this revolution of the public mind, by his pamphlet on “The Conduct of the Allies.” Another change of administration was effected in 1710, and lord Somers once more retired from public life. Towards the latter end of queen Anne’s reign he grew very infirm, and survived the powers of his understanding. Mr. Cooksey, one of his biographers, and a descendant, attributes this to a cause which every admirer of lord Somers must regret, and perhaps wish suppressed *. His lordship died of an apoplexy, April 26, 1716.

* Mr. Cooksey, an enthusiastic ad- suffer more than he uiil from indulging

rairer of lord Somers, aud who defends tins favourite maxim, in which he was

him ably, as well as indignantly, against by no means nice, or in the least degree

the insinuations of Swift, &c. has yet delicate. To this was owing his frecoucluded his Essay on the life and q-.ient illnesses and calls lo Tollbridge;

character of his lordship, with the fol- and, what was worst of all, that wreiclilowing particulars, more seriously af- ed state to which the brightest parts

fectiug his character than all that his and intellects (jod ever bestowed oa contemporary enemies had advanced. man, were reduced before his final di. ­“His (lord Somers’s) ideas, astocmi- solution.” We know not how to renexion with women (having been dis- concile this with Miss M ore’s introdui 1 ­appuinted in his first attachment, on ing his lordship in her “Religion of lite which he renounced ever after the Fashionable World.” as one who " was thought of marrying) were such as he not only remarkable for a strict attendprofesses and teaches in the Tale of a ance on the public duties of religion.

Tubfjacere collection kumorem in cor- but for maintaining them with equal

fora g’iceque. Nor did any ri:aii-ever exactness in his family.“

f Mr. Cooksey, as we shall soon notice, att;ibtes the “Tu!e of a Tub”’

| Many are the encomiums which have been bestowed upon this noble and illustrious person. Burnet tells us that” he was very learned in his own profession, with a great deal more learning in other professions; in divinity, philosophy, and history. He had a great capacity for business, with an extraordinary temper; for he was fair and gentle, perhaps to a fault, considering his post: so that he ru:d all the patience and softness, as well as the justice and equity, becoming a great magistrate.“Lord Orford calls him” one of those divine men, who, like a chapel in a palace, remain unprofaned, while all the rest i tyranny, corruption, and folly. All the traditional accounts of him, the historians of the last age, and its best authors, represent him as the most incorrupt lawyer, and the honestest statesman, as a master-orator, a genius of the finest taste, and as a patriot of the noblest and most extensive views; as a man who dispensed blessings by his life, and planned them for posterity.“He was a very great patron of men of parts and learning, and particularly of Mr. Addison, who has drawn his character at large in one of his” Freeholders,“in that of May 4, 1716, where he has chosen -his lordship’s motto for that of his paper,” Prodesse quam conspici.“Lord Somers was one of those who first redeemed Milton’s” Paradise Lost“from that obscurity in which party-prejudice and hatred had suffered it long to lie neglected, and who pointed out the merits of that noble poem. The most unfavourable character of lord Somers is that drawn by Swift, once his friend, as appears by the dedication of theTale of a Tub,“if that be Swift’s; and here we may notice that lord Somers’s biographer, Mr. Cooksey, offers some arguments, and combines some facts, to prove that this satire was the production of his lordship, and of his gay young friend lord Shrewsbury. The characters of Peter, Jack, and Martin, are said to have been sketched from living persons, and these sketches of character, after many years remaining in ms. and passing through the hands of lord Shaftesbury and sir William Temple, are said to have been published by dean Swift. That this work was the sportive production of Mr. Somers,” I have no doubt,“says Mr. Cooksey,” from the private tradition of the family, and drawn by him from real life, and originals within his own observation.“Blurton, the uncle of Mr. Somers, a good and pious man, furnished, it is said, the portrait of the church of England | man. The character of Jack, the Calvinist, exhibited that of his grandfather, Somers, who was so devoted an admirer of Richard Baxter, of presbyterian memory, as to be induced to spend most of his latter days with him at Kidderminster, and to direct his remains to be deposited under a cross in the church-yard there, as he supposed the ground hallowed by die sanctity of Baxter. Peter had his lineaments from father Petre, the Jesuit. Lord Somers’s later biographer, Mr. Maddock, after examining the probability of this story, discredits it, and leaves theTale of a Tub" the property of its generally reputed author, dean Swift; and most readers, we apprehend, will be more inclined to acquiesce in the opinion of Mr. Maddock than in that of Mr. Cooksey.

The other works attributed to lord Somers, with more or less authority, are, 1. “Dryden’s Satire to his Muse;” but this has been disputed. Mr. Malone says, the author of this severe attack on Dryden has never been discovered. Pope assures us that lord Somers “was wholly ignorant of it;” but, says Mr. Maione, “if Somers had written any part of this libel (we cannot suppose him to have written the scandalous part of it) thirty years before he was acquainted with Pope, is it probable that he would have made a young author of four-and-twenty the depositary of his secret? Two years before this satire was published, he had appeared as a poet; and near two hundred lines of it, that is, nearly two parts out of three, are a political encomium and vindication of the whigs, without any offensive personality, couched in such moderate poetry as is found in Somers’s acknowledged poetical productions.” Lord Somers’s other and acknowledged poems were, 2. “Translation of the Epistle of Dido to Æneas.” 3. “Translation of Ariadne to Theseus.” Of the prose kind were, 4. “Translation of Plutarch’s life of Alcibiades.” 5. “A just and modest Vindication of the proceedings of the two last Parliaments,1681, 4to, first written by Algernon Sidney, but ncic-draivn by Somers, published in Baldwin’s collection of pamphlets in the reign of Charles II. The two following are doubtful: 6. “The Security of Englishmen’s Lives, or the trust, power, and duty of the Grand Juries of England explained according to the fundamentals of the English government, &c.1682, and 1700. 7. “Lord Somers’s Judgment of whole kingdoms in the power, &c. of Kings,1710, 8vo, but bearing no resemblance to his | style or manner. With more certainty we may add, 8. “A Speech at the conference on the word Abdicated,'” in the General Dictionary, and probably published separately. 9. “Another on the same occasion.” 10. “Speeches at the trial of lord Preston.” 11. “His letter to king William on the Partition-treaty.” 12. “His answer to his Impeachment.” 13. “Extracts from two of his Letters to lord Wharton.” 14. “Addresses of the Lords in answer to Addresses of the Commons.” 15. “The Argument of the lord keeper Somers on his giving judgment in the Banker’s Case, delivered in the exchequer chamber, July 23, 1696.” He is supposed likewise to have written “The preface to Dr. Tindal’s Rights of the Christian Church,” a “Brief History of the Succession, collected out of the records, written for the satisfaction of the E. of H.” This was in favour of the attempt to exclude the duke of York, and was re-printed in 1714. The Mss. of this able statesman and lawyer filled above sixty folio volumes, which were destroyed by fire in Lincoln’s Inn, in 1752. Some remains, which the fire had spared, were published by lord Hardwicke in 1778, 4to, entitled “State Papers, from 1501 to 1726.” This noble editor informs us that the treatise on Grand Jurors, the Vindication of the last Parliament of Charles II. above-mentioned, and the famous last Speech of king William, were all found in the hand-writing of lord Somers. The “Somers Tracts,” so frequently referred to, are a collection of scarce pieces in four sets of four volumes each, 4to, published by Cogan from pamphlets chiefly collected by lord Somers. His lordship left a large and well-chosen library of books, and many curious Mss. Of this collection Whiston, the bookseller, gives the following account " Sir Joseph Jekyll, master of the rolls, married one of his sisters the other was married to

Cocks, esq. I think; she left two daughters, one of

which married sir Philip Yorke, who thereby came to the right of the fourth share of that collection, and purchased the other fourth. They consisted of about 6000 articles, and were valued at near 4000l. by Mr. Gyles and Mr. Charles Davies. I was employed, when apprentice to Mr. Gyles, in dividing them between sir Joseph Jekyll and sir Philip Yorke, previous to which I called them over, to see if they answered the catalogue. Every book almost went through my hands four or five times. This gave me a.n opportunity, when young, of attaining the knowledge. | of many scarce books, much sooner than the common course of business would have done. The catalogue was excellently well ranged in sciences and their subdivisions, *by the care, I heard, of the rev. Humphrey Wanley. It was about 17X1 the affair was finished. A fine collection of Bibles in all languages made a part."

Lord Somers never married. The two sisters mentioned by Mr. Whiston, were Mary, who married Charles Cocks, esq. grandfather to Charles Cocks, created baron Somers in 1784; and Catherine, who married James Harris, esq. of Salisbury, the ancestor of lord Malmsbury. The eldest daughter by this marriage, Elizabeth, married sir Joseph Jekyl, master of the rolls, who introduced Mr. Yorke to Mr. Cocks, as a proper match for his eldest daughter, Margaret, then the young widow of Mr. William Lygon of Madersfield. 1


Gen. Dict. Biog. Brit. Nash’s Worcestershire. Tindal’s History of Evesham. Swift’s Works. Malone’s Dryden. Burnet’s Own Times. Birch’s Tillotson. Whiston’s ms notes in the first edition of this Dictionary. Life, by Cooksey, and by Maddock, 4to. Park’s Royal and Noble Authors, &c.