A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Selden, John

Selden, John (1584-1654). -- Jurist and scholar, b. near Worthing, Sussex, the s. of a farmer who was also a musician, ed. at Chichester and Oxf., and studied law at Clifford's Inn and the Inner Temple. His learning soon attracted attention and, though practising little, he was consulted on points involving legal erudition. His first work, Analecton Anglo-Britannicon, a chronological collection of English records down to the Norman invasion, was written in 1606, though not pub. till 1615. In 1610 appeared a treatise on the Duello, or Single Combat; and in 1614 his largest English work on Titles of Honour, full of profound learning, and still a high authority. Three years later, 1617, he wrote in Latin his treatise, De Deis Syris (on the Gods of Syria), an inquiry into polytheism, specially with reference to the false deities mentioned in Scripture. His reputation as a scholar had now become European. In 1618 he incurred the indignation of the King and the clergy by his History of Tithes, in which he denied their claim to be a divine institution. Called before the High Commission he made a statement regretting the publication of the book though not withdrawing any of its statements. In 1621 he suffered a brief imprisonment for withstanding some of James's doctrines as to the privileges of Parliament. Two years later he was elected member for Lancaster. As a politician his views were moderate, and all along he endeavoured to repress the page 333zeal of the extremists on both sides. He was imprisoned in the Tower for four years, 1630-34. During the final struggle of King and Parliament he was much employed; but like most men of moderate views, was frequently under suspicion, and after the execution of the King, to which he was strongly opposed, he took little to do with public matters. He was a lay member of the Westminster Assembly, 1643, where his profound knowledge of the original tongues made him somewhat of a terror to certain extremists among the divines. He had at an early age been appointed steward to the Earl of Kent, and at the house of his widow, with whom he had long lived in such close friendship as to give rise to the belief that they were m., he d. Among other works may be mentioned a description of the Arundel Marbles (1629), a treatise concerning the Jewish calendar (1646), and, specially, his Table Talk, pub. 1689, of which Coleridge said "there is more weighty bullion sense in this book than I can find in the same number of pages of any uninspired writer." He was likewise the author of various treatises on constitutional matters and the law of nations, including Mare Clausum (a Closed Sea), in defence of the property of England in its circumfluent seas. Most of these were written in Latin.

Coll. Works with Life, Dr. Wilkins (3 vols., folio, 1726), Aikin's Lives of Selden and Ussher.