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RULES OF THE CLUB
Resolved, that the Proposer be desired, and is hereby desired to bring in a Model of a Free State, or equal Commonwealth, at large, to be farther debated by this Society, and that in Order thereunto it be first Printed.
“Resolved, that the Model being proposed in Print, shall be first read, and then debated by Clauses.
· Resolved, that a Clause being read over Night, the Debate thereupon begin not at the sooner till the next Evening
“Resolved, that such as will debate, be desired to bring in their Queries upon, or Objections against the Clause in Debate, if they think fit in writing.
“Resolved, that Debate being sufficiently had upon a Clause, the Question be put by the Balloting-box, not any way to determine of, or meddle with the Government of these Nations, but to discover the Judgment of this Society, upon the form of Popular Government, in Abstract, or Secundum Artem.” 1
These rules illustrate in a striking form the intentions of the club and the orderly way in which business was carried out.
It appears from a contemporary song called “The Rota ” that the ballot was not used, until it had first been found out by acclamation, whether there was any doubt concerning the views of the house.
“ If unresolved by I or Not
It must be put to the Ballot,
This is borne out by Pepys' account of one of his visits to the club. “I went,” he writes on January 17th,
1 “ Works," p. 621.
: "Collection of Loyal Songs,” ii. 214.
PROCEDURE AT THE ROTA
1660,“ to the Coffee Club (Miles') and heard very good discourse ; it was in answer to Mr Harrington's answer, who said that the state of the Roman Government was not a settled government, and so it was no wonder that the balance of prosperity' was in one hand, and the command in another, it being therefore always in a posture of war; but it was carried by ballot that it was a steady government, though it is true by the voices it had been carried before that it was an unsteady government; so to-morrow it is to be proved by the opponents that the balance lay in one hand and the government in another." The academic nature of the Society, which is here seen, is further illustrated by Butler's satirical “Speech made at the Rota,”? and by the somewhat futile song which has been already quoted, with the stanza,
First Harrington doth hawk and hum
A further account of an evening at the club may be found in " The Censure of the Rota upon Mr Milton's Book, entitled 'The Ready and Easy Way to establish a free Commonwealth,
The pamphlet purported to be written by Harrington and was signed with the initials J. H. But it is not hard to see that it is a mere royalist squib. However, it is of none the less historical value, because, burlesque as it is, it bears out our other accounts. The imprint on the title-page shows the secretary being commanded to draw up a detailed minute of the proceedings. “ Die Lunæ, 26° Martii 1660. Ordered by the Rota, that Mr Harrington be desired to draw up a
· Pepys has mistaken the phrase “ Balance of Property.” , "Genuine Remains," i. 317. • Harl. Misc. iv. 188 and E 1019; cf. Masson, “ Life of Milton," v. 659.
BURLESQUE OF AN EVENING
Narrative of this Day's Prooceeding upon Mr Milton's Book, called, ‘ The Ready and Easy Way,' etc. And to cause the same to be forthwith printed and published, and a Copy thereof to be sent to Mr Milton. Trundle Wheeler, Clerk to the Rota.” « Printed at London by Paul Giddy, Printer to the Rota, at the sign of the Windmill in Turn-again Lane, 1660." There is no reason to suppose that this is not a correct account of the procedure at the Rota ; but the date March 26th, the name of the clerk, the printer, the sign, and the lane, in which the printing works are supposed to be, show without doubt the nature of the publication. The evening of which a picture is given was devoted to a criticism of Milton's political philosophy as illustrated by his latest book. Generally opinion at the Rota was pretty evenly divided, because Harrington always encouraged the attendance of opponents and men of every kind of view ; but on this occasion hardly anyone could be found to defend Milton. After several speeches of somewhat cheap invective, a gentleman that had been some years beyond seas rose and delivered a speech of a more academic nature. But in the course of his remarks a diversion took place. “He was interrupted by a gentleman that came in, and told us, that Sir Arthur Hazlerig, the Brutus of our republick, was in danger to be torn to pieces, like a Shrovetuesday bawd, by the boys in Westminster Hall ; and if he had not shown himself as able a footman as he that cudgelled him, he had gone the way of Dr Lamb infallibly. This set all the company alaughing ; and made the traveller forget what he was going to say.” So somebody else got up and started an attack on Milton's prejudice against royalty, blaming him for taking his philosophy out of the writing of Greek demagogues, and reminding him of a certain biblical
AT THE ROTA CLUB
phrase, “The Kingdom of Heaven.” His successor attempted wit. They then balloted on Milton's views of monarchy. One speech of a more sensible nature followed, and the company got tired. So a worthy knight got up and protested against continuing a subject, which seemed never likely to end, summed up, used invective, pointed out the absurdity of believing that all Kings are bad and all commonwealths good, and made a peroration in praise of Charles II. But Harrington himself was asked to make a speech, before the club dismissed. He blamed Milton for making no reference to the Agrarian and for refusing to accept the principle of rotation, he discoursed in brief on Rome and Venice, he compared the nation to a top, which does not stand unless it spins, and he recommended his balloting balls as good pills for a body that is diseased. And so the evening ended.
Allowance must be made for the royalist authorship of the pamphlet. It is doubtful indeed whether the club would have ever attacked a man who was in many ways in sympathy with them. Otherwise, however, it may serve as a vivid picture of an evening at the club, written by someone who had paid it a visit as a spectator. The report of Harrington's own speech may be compared with a passage in Aubrey illustrating his fondness for homely similes. “ He was wont to find fault with the constitution of our government, that 'twas by jumps, and told the story of a cavaliero he sawe at the Carnival in Italie, who rode on an excellent managed horse that with a touch of his toe would jump quite round. One side of his habit was Spanish, the other French; which sudden alteration of the same person pleasantly surprized the spectators.” Just so,” said he,“ 'tis with us. When
DISSOLUTION OF THE ROTA
no Parliament, then absolute monarchie; when a
upon the unexpected turne upon General Monke's comeing in, all these aierie modells vanished.” 2 Pepys went on what was perhaps the last night of its existence and “heard Mr Harrington and my Lord of Dorset and another Lord, talking of getting another place at the Cockpit, and they did believe it would come to something." But “the club,” he adds,“ broke up very poorly, and I do not think they will meet any more.
We do not know if they ever did; we draw the curtain on the picture of Harrington, still hopeful, discussing with two members of the English aristocracy, which he so much admired, the prospect of future meetings.
Dr Johnson wrote of Milton--"Even in the year of the restoration he bated no jot of heart or hope but was fantastical enough to think that the nation, agitated as it was, might be settled by a pamphlet.” Guizot wrote of Vane-“ It is a peculiarity of subtle and chimerical minds to believe that success is always possible.” What Dr Johnson wrote of Milton and Guizot of Vane might equally well be applied to Harrington. He was not disheartened by the acceptance of forms of government that differed from his own, and he had no serious fears of the restoration of the old monarchical system. He thought it impossible under existing economic conditions. Aubrey recounts the following prophetic remark of Harrington in reference to the return of Charles II. and the Cavalier Parliament-a remark which appears in various forms in his writings.
“Let him come in and call a Parliament of the greatest Cavaliers in England,
1 Aubrey, “ Brief Lives," i. 291.