A Book of Life
Chief Justice Coke, His Family and Descendants at Ho1kham By C. W. James. (Country Life. 30s.)
THE appearance of a book of this kind makes Us praise Heaven for the evidence on every page that the writer or
compiler is a man of taste and sensibility, scholarly and accurate, and yet a man of the world who never thrusts forward what may be of interest to him but dry to his readers. They benefit by many years of work, for Mr. James must have passed a vast mass of material through the sieve before presenting this book of moderate size. The full title of the book should prevent misconceptions of his purpose. It is not a history of the great events in which Coke took part, nor a biography, though he still lacks the work of some legal historian to correct the impression given by Lord Campbell and others. Coke deserves a book that would elaborate the concise judgment of Professor A. V. Dicey, which Mr. James does not quote :—
"Nothing can be more pedantic . . . than the reasoning by which Coke induced or compelled James to forgo the attempt to withdraw eases from the Courts for His Majesty's personal deter- mination. But no achievement of sound argument or stroke of enlightened statesmanship ever established a rule more essential to the very existence of the Constitution than the principle enforced by the obstinacy and the fallacies of the great Chief Justice (Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution.)."
There lies Coke's claim to fame, the work for which he suffered imprisonment in our behalf. Mr. James makes no silly attempt to whitewash the faults. He does not excuse the vicious attacks in Court upon Essex and Raleigh, though later as a judge he never sinned in like manner. The avarice of which he was accused is more difficult to explain, for it was combined with a generous use of money. He was lavish in expenditure and honourable in paying the huge debts of his sons ; but he certainly loved to acquire wealth, pre- sumably for the power it gave, and his worldly success, for himself and his family, in the marriage-market was so great as almost to compel admiration.
From Sir Edward, Mr. James passes to the family and gives us brief but lively accounts of the descendants who inherited his wealth and to some extent his wits. The male line of the Chief Justice ended in Thomas, created Earl of Leicester in 1744, who died in 1759, having survived his only son. This Thomas was the Whig politician who raised that magnificent monument, Holkham, and, no less than his great-nephew, added by his work in Norfolk to the wealth of the country by making barren land produce corn and timber. Mr. James ends with the rising glories of Holkham, its magnificence within and without, and the treasures it contains. In a book that comes from Country We there are, of course, admirable photographs of the house as well as of portraits. Indeed, the publishers have done well throughout under Mr. James's guidance, as one may see from the binding, copied from a simple Caroline example, as well as from the well-designed title-page.
The tendency to-day is to illustrate history by close study of local and domestic life rather than to enlarge upon great (vents. Herein lies the value of this book, too, for no reader could help learning here much of the life of Englishmen, high and low, from 1550 to 1750. He will see marriages as apparently mere bargains over women's persons and estates, and their eternal influence undiminished notwithstanding ; the current wages and other economies that would delight Arthur Young ; the colloquial language ; the gossip and scandal about prominent persons (what could be more modern than this from a lady's letter about Milton after the publica- tion of his work on divorce : "If report says true, he had at that time two or three wives living " ?) ; the relations between landlords and tenants, masters and servants, the positions of agents or tutors, and so on : humane relations, but different from those of to-day. The Duchess of Bucking- ham, natural daughter of James II, was happily an exception to all rules, and it is in contrast to others that we quote a sentence from a letter of hers to Lady Huntingdon, the foundress of her dissenting " Connexion " : "it is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches who crawl to earth" I
The chapters given to Thomas Coke (first Lord Leicester) reveal the comprehensive education given to young men of birth and wealth. It included the Grand Tour, but Coke's five years spent abroad, mainly in Italy, cannot be taken as typical, for he was above the average in precocity and devotion to art. Young men did in those days bring home much of the wealth of pictures and early books now found in Great Britain, but Coke, travelling with his retinue at the age of fifteen, was the most remarkable. It was not mere chance that he had advice from Kent, because he formed a life-long friendship which a frivolous boy would have dropped. From his first sight of Italian palaces he dreamt of the Holkham that he would rear. The pictures and statuary that he bought were to adorn his home. He chose and bought the books and manuscripts, now so famous, because, as he wrote to his guardian, "Certainly one of the greatest ornaments to a\ Gentleman or his family is a fine Library." And he certainly honoured art and literature in believing that it was the duty of a gentleman to house fine things finely, according to the sentiment of Theocritus' Doric lady, Iv Apiov 6X)9ta arcirra.
Thus we have more than a glorification of Holkham though the author rightly extols the house that he loves and admires. There is more than a glorification of Chief Justice Coke and the family that he founded, though Mr. James admires a family that has for centuries done its duty in taking a leading place in East Anglia, and promises to continue to do so. (There is no fulsome praise in such a sentence as "The Cokes do not appear to be a licentious race," and they will not resent the somewhat prim manner in which Mr. James bids them mind the examples and precepts of their forbears.) The book does glorify Cokes and Holkham, but it does much more. In a manner that will entertain readers of different humours it hangs upon those two threads a great deal of amusing and instructive information of two centuries of English life.