But his talents, though not brilliant, were of an eminently useful kind; and his principles, though not inflexible, were not more relaxed than those of his associates and competitors.
He had a cool temper, a sound judgment, great powers of application, and a constant eye to the main chance.
When he was studying the law at Gray’s Inn, he lost all his furniture and books at the gaming table to one of his friends.
He accordingly bored a hole in the wall which separated his chambers from those of his associate, and at midnight bellowed through this passage threats of damnation and calls to repentance in the ears of the victorious gambler, who lay sweating with fear all night, and refunded his winnings on his knees next day.
He had no aspirations after the crown of martyrdom.
He confessed himself, therefore, with great decorum, heard mass in Wimbledon Church at Easter, and, for the better ordering of his spiritual concerns, took a priest into his house. Nares, whose simplicity passes that of any casuist with whom we are acquainted, vindicates his hero by assuring us that this was not superstition, but pure unmixed hypocrisy.
He was by nature and habit one of those who follow, not one of those who lead.
Nothing that is recorded, either of his words or of his actions, indicates intellectual or moral elevation.
He not only contrived to escape unhurt when his patron fell, but became an important member of the administration of Northumberland. Nares assures us over and over again that there could have been nothing base in Cecil’s conduct on this occasion; for, says he, Cecil continued to stand well with Cranmer. He was prudently unwilling to put his hand to the instrument which changed the course of the succession. Cecil, therefore, according to his own account, excused himself from signing as a party, but consented to sign as a witness.
It is not easy to describe his dexterous conduct at this most perplexing crisis, in language more appropriate than that which is employed by old Fuller.