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THE AUTHOR OF OCEANA
In those critical years of dispute between James I. and his parliaments, when the Tudor system of government was on the eve of collapse, history records the birth of the strange writer, who was afterwards to give a logical explanation of the collapse and to suggest to deaf ears a way by which republicanism might avoid the same catastrophe.
Like many of the opponents of the Stuart régime, James Harrington came of a good family, and a family that took pride in its greatness.
He could trace his ancestry back to the twelfth century, when a younger branch of the family, at that time influential in Cumberland, came by marriage into possession of the property belonging to Exton House, Exton, Rutlandshire. Several members of the family achieved fame. Sir John Harrington, created Baron Harrington of Exton in 1603, was a well-known figure in his time. He was selected for his piety and learning to be tutor to the King's daughter, Elizabeth, who afterwards married the Elector Palatine and became the unhappy Winter Queen of Bohemia. His son, a traveller and an accomplished linguist, was Prince Henry's favourite companion ; and his premature death was mourned like the death of Germanicus. Sir John Harrington, the poet, was the first baron's cousin. His father had been one of Henry VIII.'s confidential advisers. He himself, with Queen Elizabeth as his godmother, played a prominent part in the life of the
Court, combining the parts of poet, wit, and scholar with considerable success. His reputation was such that the royal servants were compelled to lavish every attention on him from fear of the epigrams with which their shortcomings used to be accompanied. His writings were amorous and sometimes indecent, so that he earned from the Queen the title saucy poet,” but at the same time he was able to study the religious questions of the day, and he actually proposed himself as successor to Archbishop Loftus in the
The Harringtons were an interesting family with qualities which would win them a place in seventeenthcentury society. They had travelled on the continent. They were linguists, scholars, and gentlemen. They were at the same time men of character and men of charm.
Some painstaking chronologist of the time of James II. calculated that no fewer than eight dukes, three marquises, seventy earls, nine counts, twentyseven viscounts, and thirty-six barons (sixteen out of this total having been made Knights of the Garter) were descendants or nearly allied to the descendants of the baron's father, Sir James Harrington. James Harrington himself, in whom we shall see many of the family characteristics, was a great-nephew of the first Lord Harrington, being the eldest son of Sir Sapcote Harrington and Jane, daughter of Sir William Samuel of Upton in Northamptonshire. He was born on Friday, January 3rd, 1611, at the seat of his mother's family.
of his youth little is known. He was one of eight children, and appears to have been somewhat precocious. His sister, to whom we are indirectly in
1 Wright, “ History and Antiquities of Rutlandshire," p. 52.
debted for much that we know of his life, remembered him as a boy of a grave disposition with a keen desire for knowledge, who rather frightened his parents with his learning. He entered Trinity College, Oxford, in 1629, as a gentleman commoner, under the famous rational theologian Chillingworth, whose influence we may perhaps see in Harrington's views of religious liberty. After devoting himself to a study of modern as well as of ancient languages, he left the University without taking a degree. He was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1631.?
The next stage in his education was the one to which he himself attached the greatest importance-travel. The continent was visited in the seventeenth century by a large number of Englishmen, of whom some went to fight, some to avoid persecution, some to study ; others mainly to gain the experience and educational advantages of travel. Those who were in search of employment as soldiers and those who wanted religious liberty generally went to the Netherlands; students and travellers made their way to Italy, and often came back with a new and wider outlook. This intellectual development, which can be seen in varying degrees in men like Pym, Hampden, Sidney, Penn, Locke, Nevile, Marvell, and Milton-all of whom visited the continent, is unmistakable in the case of Harrington
Harrington spent the first part of his time in the Netherlands, where he enlisted under the Earl of Craven, in an English volunteer regiment. He was thus brought into contact with the court of the Prince of Orange, as well as that of his great-uncle's pupil, now
1 The life of Harrington by Toland, prefixed to his collection of Harrington's Works, was compiled chiefly from material supplied by the Lady Ashton, his eldest sister.
: "Middle Temple Records," ii. 784.