« AnteriorContinuar »
millions of other men. The happiness of a nation mustneeds be firmest and certainest in full and free council of their own electing, where no single person, but reason only, sways. And what madness is it for them who might manage nobly their own affairs themselves, sluggishly and weakly to devolve all on a single person ; and, more like boys under age than men, to commit all to his patronage and disposal who neither can perform what he undertakes; and yet for undertaking it, though royally paid, will not be their servant, but their lord ! How unmanly must it needs be, to count such a one the breath of our nostrils, to hang all our felicity on him, all our safety, our well-being, for which if we were aught else but sluggardsor babies, we need depend on none but God and our own counsels, our own active virtue and industry. ... It
may be well wondered that any nation, styling themselves free, can suffer any man to pretend hereditary right over them as their lord; whenas, by acknowledging that right, they conclude themselves his servants and his vassals, and so renounce their own freedom. Which how a people and their leaders especially can do, who have fought so gloriously for liberty ; how they can change their noble words and actions, heretofore so becoming the majesty of a free people, into the base necessity of court flatteries and prostrations, is not only strange and admirable, but lamentable to think on.
That a nation should be so valorous and courageous to win their liberty in the field, and when they have won it, should be so heartless and unwise in their counsels, as not to know how to use it, value it, what to do with it, or with themselves; but after ten or twelve years' prosperous war and contestation with tyranny, basely and besottedly to run their necks again into the yoke which they have broken, and prostrate all the fruits of their victory for nought at the feet of the vanquished, besides our loss of glory, and such an example as kings or tyrants never yet had the like to boast of, will be an ignominy if it befall us, that never yet befell
any nation possessed of their liberty."
* Prose Works, vol. ii., pp. 115, 116, 118, 119.
He does not, however, confine himself to general illustrations of the blessings of a commonwealth, but points out the special perils involved in the return of the deposed family. “ But admit,” he says, “that monarchy of itself may be convenient to some nations; yet to us who have thrown it out, received back again, it cannot but prove pernicious. For kings to come, never forgetting their former ejection, will be sure to fortify and arm themselves sufficiently for the future against all such attempts hereafter from the people; who shall be then so narrowly watched and kept so low, that though they would never so fain, and at the same rate of their blood and treasure, they never shall be able to regain what they now have purchased and may enjoy, or to free themselves from any yoke imposed upon them. Nor will they dare to go about it; utterly disheartened for the future, if these their highest attempts prove unsuccessful; which will be the triumph of all tyrants hereafter over any people that shall resist oppression ; and their song will then be, to others, How sped the rebellious English? to our posterity, How sped the rebels, your fathers?”*
Having shown that that was the particular crisis, at which it would be easy to found a free commonwealth, he proceeds to show how especially such a form of government would conduce to those interests which he had through life regarded as supremely valuable. “This liberty of conscience,” he says, “which, above all other things, ought to be to all men dearest and most precious, no government more inclinable not to favour alone, but to protect, than a free commonwealth ; as being most magnanimous, most fearless, and confident of its own fair proceedings.” This position he strengthens by showing how these rights were violated by Protestant Elizabeth, and then appeals: “What liberty of conscience can we then expect of others, far worse principied from the cradle, trained up and governed by popish and Spanish counsels, and on such depending hitherto for subsistence ? Especially what can this last parliament expect,
* Prose Works, vol. ii. p. 130.
who having revived lately and published the covenant, have re-engaged themselves never to readmit episcopacy? Which no son of Charles returning but will most certainly bring back with him, if he regard the last and strictest charge of his father, “to persevere in, not the doctrine only, but government of the Church of England, not to neglect the speedy and effectual suppressing of errors and schisms;' among which he accounted presbytery one of the chief."*
He lastly proceeds to show that the same considerations applied to the civil rights and liberties of his countrymen, and concludes with the following prophetic language : "I have no more to say at present: few words will save us, well considered ; few and easy things now seasonably done. But if the people be so affected as to prostitute religion and liberty to the vain and groundless apprehension, that nothing but kingship can restore trade, not remembering the frequent plagues and pestilences that then wasted this city, such as through God's mercy we never have felt since; and that trade flourishes nowhere more than in the free commonwealths of Italy, Germany, and the Low Countries, before their eyes at this day; yet if trade be grown so craving and importunate through the profuse living of tradesmen, that nothing can support it but the luxurious expenses of a nation upon trifles or superfluities; so as if the people generally should betake themselves to frugality, it might prove a dangerous matter, lest tradesmen should mutiny for want of trading; and that therefore we must forego and set to sale religion, liberty, honour, safety, all concernments divine or human, to keep up trading; if, lastly, after all this light among us, the same reason shall pass for current, to put our necks again under kingship, as was made use of by the Jews to return back to Egypt, and to the worship of their idol queen, because they falsely imagined that they then lived in more plenty and prosperity; our condition is not sound, but rotten, both in
* Prose Works, vol. ii. p. 134,
religion and all civil prudence; and will bring us soon, the way we are marching, to those calamities, which attend always and unavoidably on luxury, all national judgments under foreign and domestic slavery: so far we shall be from mending our condition by monarchizing our government, whatever new conceit now possesses us.
“However, with all hazard I have ventured what I thought my duty to speak in season, and to forewarn my country in time; wherein I doubt not but there be many wise men in all places and degrees, but am sorry the effects of wisdom are so little seen among us. Many circumstances and particulars I could have added in those things whereof I have spoken: but a few main matters now put speedily in execution, will suffice to recover us, and set all right: and there will want at no time who are good at circumstances; but men who set their minds on main matters, and sufficiently urge them, in these most difficult times I find not many.
" What I have spoken, is the language of that which is not called amiss •The good old Cause :' if it seem strange to any, it will not seem more strange, I hope, than convincing to backsliders. Thus much I should perhaps have said, though I was sure I should have spoken only to trees and stones; and had none to cry to, but with the prophet, “O earth, earth, earth!' to tell the very soil itself, what her perverse inhabitants are deaf to. Nay, though what I have spoke should happen (which Thou suffer not, who didst create mankind free! nor Thou next, who didst redeem us from being servants of men !) to be the last words of our expiring liberty."*
And the last words of expiring liberty they were; for they terminated the political history of her noblest champion, and an enemy who had never felt the charm of her benign sway was already at the gates. His return was hailed by a people who judged themselves unworthy of
Prose Works, vol, ii. pp. 137, 138.
freedom, by an acquiescent army, and by the treacherous faction of loyalized presbyterians, more ignoble than all. Under such auspices, the most worthless of British monarchs was restored to the throne. “ Then came those days never to be recalled without a blush—the days of servitude without loyalty, and sensuality without love, of dwarfish talents and gigantic vices, the paradise of cold hearts and narrow minds, the golden age of the coward, the bigot, and the slave. The King cringed to his rival that he might trample on his people, sunk into a Viceroy of France, and pocketed, with complacent infamy, her degrading insults, and her more degrading gold. The caresses of harlots, and the jests of buffoons, regulated the measures of a government which had just ability enough to deceive, and just religion enough to persecute. The principles of liberty were the scoff of every grinning courtier, and the Anathema Maranatha of every fawning dean. In every high place, worship was paid to Charles and James-Belial and Moloch ; and England propitiated those obscene and cruel idols with the blood of her best and bravest children. Crime succeeded to crime, and disgrace to disgrace, till the race accursed of God and man was a second time time driven forth, to wander on the face of the earth, and to be a by-word and a shaking of the head to the nations." *
The Foreign Secretary who had stood forth before the eyes of Europe as the justifier of the execution of Charles I., and as the opponent of that prelatical tyranny which the Stuarts cherished as the bulwark of their own, was too conspicuous an offender not to be endangered by the Restoration. Accordingly, he quitted his residence in Petty France, and was secreted in the house of a friend in St. Bartholomew's Close, where he remained for about four months, until his safety was permanently secured by the passing of the Act of Oblivion, on the 29th August, 1660. His two great political works, the “ Eikonoclastes” and the
* Edinburgh Review, vol. xlii., p. 337.