« AnteriorContinuar »
so they be men of estates, and let them sitt but 7 yeares, and they will all turn Common-wealthe's men." The half-truth in this conjecture is obvious. Harrington's optimism, however, waned before long; and though republicans like Pierpoint and St John were still active, Harrington had by the middle of March given up all hope.1
His theories, however, still attracted some attention, when their author had retired. Either at the beginning of March or the end of February Milton, who was now champion of the republican party, published his Ready and Easy Way to establish a Free Commonwealth," to which reference has already been made. He still adhered to his belief in the necessity of permanence in government. "The Ship of the Commonwealth is always under sail; they sit at the stern; and if they steer well, what need is there to change them; it being rather dangerous?" He therefore proposed the election of a Grand Council with life membership, electing a smaller Council of State. He did not believe in the advisability of alternation or rotation in government. He thought it impaired the dignity of office, made the acquisition of experience impossible, and meant the widespread divulgence of state secrets. For the further security of liberty he suggested a form of decentralised government, which almost amounted to federalism. But if people were sceptical or dissatisfied, rather than fall back on the ordinary proposals for annual, biennial, or triennial parliaments, he expressed his readiness to accept a modification of Harrington's ideas, by which a portion of the Grand Council would retire every second or third year. This, however, was his δευτέρος πλούς.
The squib written against this pamphlet to which reference has already been made appeared at the end of March.1 Milton read it, and, whether he believed Harrington had written it or not, published some time in April a second edition of his tract, in which he made alterations and additions by way of answering the squib. He made the general criticism of Harrington's theories as "intricacies," "exotic models," ideas that would effect nothing, but with a number of new injunctions to manacle the native liberty of mankind."
In particular he objected to the idle and unwieldy popular assembly of Harrington's scheme with its frivolous paraphernalia. He realised as much as Harrington the need of well-qualifying and refining elections so as not to "commit all to the noise and shouting of a rude multitude." But he mistrusted the ballot. So he proposed a system of indirect election far more stringent than Harrington's. He would permit none but those "who are rightly qualified to nominate as many as they will; and out of that number others of a better breeding to choose a less number more judiciously; till after a third or fourth sifting and refining of exactest choice, they only be left chosen, who are the due number, and seem by most voices the worthiest." He still believed that life membership was safe as long as the army of the godly party remained in existence; and he still hoped his federal system would help to prevent tyranny in the Grand Council and secure liberty for the people. The fact that Milton gave as much prominence and as much sympathy to Harrington's proposals as he did, helps to show that they did not pass with their author into oblivion.
1 See above, p. 105.
On April 25th, the Convention Parliament assembled, and the republicans gave up their last hope. The restoration of monarchy was certain; the Commonwealth was dead. Anyone who read the reprint of Vane's "Healing Question" must have paused when he came to this sentence: "In this tract of time, there hath been (as we may say) a great silence in heaven." It was what every royalist was thinking of the last twelve years. One of them writing the day after the meeting of the Convention Parliament used words, which not only illustrate the dominant feeling of the time but serve to sum up the success and the failure of "Oceana." The author, after accepting Harrington's main proposition that dominion follows landed property, and arguing that for this very reason a "free state or democracy is impossible for a country possessing the caste of " gentlemen," which England possesses, continued as follows: "But t'will be said, as Plato fancyed his Community, and Sir Thomas More his Utopia, so may we a Rotation, thereby to gather up a new model of a Commonwealth out of the scattered gentry, in the nature of a House of Commons. Truly my friends, if you will try new experiments, I wish you had other subjects to practice upon, than the Estates and Lives, nay, the very souls of Christians. We have run the loss of those and the hazard of these too long upon the hopes of a Chimera in the brains of some. The word Liberty has deluded us into patience, and patience since 48 has brought forth less payments, but more servitude." Then after condemning the Commonwealth of Oceana, one of the chief principles of which he had accepted, he concluded on the monarchical note which ushered in Charles II. The English gentry have spirits pure, naturally just, and generous like fire aspiring as a
pyramid, from low to high, and it will never rest, till it contracts itself into a Unity at top: so God is one, or he were not God, nor could he rule the world." 1
1 "A Discourse for a King and Parliament," W. C. Gg. 310. British Museum Catalogue.
CONTEMPORARY CRITICISM OF HARRINGTON'S THEORIES
HARRINGTON not unnaturally aroused a great deal of criticism of an academic nature. In the four years which have just been described Matthew Wren, the son of the Bishop of Ely, Henry Stubbe of Christ Church, Oxford, John Rogers, the enthusiastic supporter of the Long Parliament, Captain Bray, the sectarian soldier, and Richard Baxter, the Presbyterian preacher all took up their cudgels against him. Harrington himself started controversies with Dr Ferne, Dr Heylyn, Dr Seaman, and Dr Hammond. Hobbes, in spite of all Harrington's challenges (Aubrey says that Oceana was written against him 1), remained silent. Much of what was written on both sides is very uninteresting. Discussions on the method of ordination in the early Christian Church were followed by disputes about the origin, composition, and functions of the Sanhedrim. The exact powers of the tribunes and ephors in checking arbitrary action were mooted. The constitution of Sparta formed a subject for controversy. Wren showed very capably that neither Aristotle nor Thucydides had the slightest conception of the balance of property, and made a happy quotation from Anacharsis with reference to Harrington's two chambers, "That wise men propounded Matters and Fools decided them." Stubbe wrote at length of the "historical defects of Oceana." Harrington had a