Mr John Miltons
CHARACTER of the Long Parliament
And ASSEMBLY of DIVINES. In MDCXLI.
Omitted in his other Works, and never before Printed, And very seasonable for these times.
TO the Reader.
The Reader may take notice, That this Character of Mr. Miltons was a part of his History of Britain, and by him designed to be Printed: But out of tenderness to a Party, [whom neither this nor much more Lenity has had the luck to oblige] it was struck out for some harshness, being only such a Digression, as the History itself would not be discomposed by its omission: which I suppose will be easily discerned, by reading over the beginning of the Third Book of the said History, very near which place this Character is to come in.
It is reported (and from the fore-going Character it seems probable) that Mr. Milton had lent most of his Personal Estate upon the Publick Faith; which when he somewhat earnestly and warmly pressed to have restored [observing how all in Offices had not only feathered their own Nests, but had enricht many of their Relations and Creatures, before the Publick Debts were discharged] after a long and chargeable Attendance, met with very sharp Rebukes; upon which at last despairing of any Success in this Affair, he was forced to return from them poor and friendless, having spent all his Money, and wearied all his Friends. And he had not probably mended his worldly condition in those days, but by performing such Service for them, as afterwards he did, for which scarce anything would appear too great.
OF these who sway'd most in the late Troubles, few words as to this point may suffice. They had Arms, Leaders, and Successes to their wish; but to make use of so great an Advantage was not their skill.
To other causes therefore, and not to the want of Force, or Warlick Manhood in the Britains, both those, and these lately, we must impute to the ill Husbanding of those fair Opportunities, which might seem to have put Liberty so long desired, like a Bridle into their hands. Of which other causes equally belonging to Ruler, Priest, and People, above hath been related: which, as they brought those Antient Natives to Misery and Ruine, by Liberty, which, rightly used, might have made them happy; so brought they these of late, after many Labours, much Blood-shed, and vast expence, to Ridiculous Frustration: in whom the like defects, the like Miscarriages notoriously appeared, with Vices not less hateful or inexcusable.
For a Parliament being call'd, to Redress many things, as 'twas thought, the People with great Courage, and expectation to be eased of what Discontented them, chose to their behoof in Parliament, such as they thought best affected to the Publick Good, and some indeed Men of Wisdom and Integrity; the rest [to be sure the greater part,] whom Wealth or ample Possessions, or bold and active Ambition [rather than Merit] had commended to the same place.
But when once the superficial Zeal and Popular Fumes that acted their New Magistracy were cool'd, and spent in them, straight every one betook himself, setting the Common-wealth behind, his private Ends before, to do as his own profit or ambition led him. Then was Justice delayed, and soon after deny'd: Spight and Favour determined all: Hence Faction, thence Treachery, both at home and in the Field: Every where Wrong, and Oppression: Foul and Horrid Deeds committed daily, or maintain'd, in secret, or in open. Some who had been called from Shops and Ware-houses, without other Merit, to sit in Supreme Councels and Committees, [as their Breeding was] fell to Huckster the Common-wealth. Others did thereafter as Men could sooth and humour them best; so he who would give most, or under Covert of Hypocritical Zeal, insinuate basest, enjoyed unworthily the Rewards of Learning and Fidelity; or escaped the punishment of his Crimes and Misdeeds. Their Votes and Ordinances, which Men lookt should have contained the Repealing of Bad Laws, and the immediate Constitution of better, resounded with nothing else, but new Impositions, Taxes, Excises; Yearly, Monthly, Weekly. Not to reckon the Offices, Gifts, and Preferments bestowed and shared among themselves: They in the mean while, who were ever faithfullest to this Cause, and freely aided them in Person, or with their Substance, when they durst not compel either, slighted, and bereaved after, of their just Debts by greedy Sequestrations, were tossed up and down after miserable Attendance from one Committee to another with Petitions in their hands, yet either mist the obtaining of their suit, or though it were at length granted, [mere shame and reason oft-times extorting from them at least a shew of Justice] yet by their Sequestratours and Sub-committees abroad, Men for the most part of insatiable hands, and noted Disloyalty, those Orders were commonly disobeyed: which for certain durst not have been, without secret complyance, if not compact with some Superiours able to bear them out. Thus were their Friends confiscate in their Enemies, while they forfeited their Debtours to the State, as they called it, but indeed to the Ravening Seizure of innumerable Thieves in Office: Yet were withal no less burthened in all extraordinary Assesments and Oppressions, than those whom they took to be disaffected: Nor were we happier Creditours to what we call'd the State, than to them who were Sequestred as the States Enemies.
For that Faith which ought to have been kept as Sacred and Inviolable as any thing holy, The Publick Faith, after infinite Sums received, and all the Wealth of the Church not better imploy'd, but swallowed up into a private Gulph, was not ere long ashamed to confess Bankrupt. And now besides the sweetness of Bribery, and other gain, with the love of Rule, their own Guiltiness, and the dreaded name of just Account, which the People had long call'd for, discovered plainly that there were of their own number, who secretly contrived and fomented those Troubles and Combustions in the Land, which openly they sate to remedy; and would continually finde such work, as should keep them from being ever brought to that Terrible stand, of laying down their Authority for lack of new business, or not drawing it out to any length of Time, tho' upon the Ruine of a whole Nation.
And if the State were in this plight, Religion was not in much better; to Reform which, a certain number of Divines were called, neither chosen by any Rule or Custome Ecclesiastical, nor eminent for either Piety or Knowledge above others left out; only as each Member of Parliament in his private Fancy thought fit, so elected one by one. The most part of them were such, as had Preach'd and cryed down, with great shew of Zeal, the Avarice and Pluralities of Bishops and Prelates; that one Cure of Souls was a full Employment for one Spiritual Pastour how able soever, if not a charge rather above humane strength. Yet these Conscientious men (ere any part of the work done for which they came together, and that on the Publick Salary) wanted not boldness, to the Ignominy and Scandal of their Pastor-like Profession, and especially of their boasted Reformation, to seize into their hands, or not unwillingly to accept [besides one, sometimes two or more of the best Livings] Collegiate Masterships in the Universities, rich Lectures in the City, setting Sail to all Winds that might blow Gain into their covetous Bosoms: By which means these great Rebukers of Non-Residence, among so many distant Cures, were not ashamed to be seen so quickly Pluralists and Non-Residents themselves, to a fearful Condemnation doubtless by their own Mouths. And yet the main Doctrine for which they took such pay, and insisted upon with more vehemence than Gospel, was but to tell us in effect, that their Doctrine was worth nothing, and the Spiritual Power of their Ministry less available than Bodily Compulsion; perswading the Magistrate to use it, as a stronger means to subdue and bring in Conscience, than Evangelical perswasion: Distrusting the Virtue of their own Spiritual weapons, which were given them, if they be rightly called, with full warrant of sufficiency to pull down all thoughts and imaginations that exalt themselves against God. But while they taught compulsion without convincement, which not long before they complained of, as executed unchristianly, against themselves, these intents are clear to have been no better than Antichristian: setting up a Spiritual Tyranny by a Secular power, to the advancing of their own Authority above the Magistrate, whom they would have made their Executioner, to punish Church-Delinquencies, whereof Civil Laws have no cognizance.
And well did their Disciples manifest themselves to be no better principled than their Teachers, trusted with Committeeships and other gainful Offices, upon their commendations for Zealous, [and as they stickt not to term them] Godly men; but executing their places like Children of the Devil, unfaithfully, unjustly, unmercifully, and where not corruptly, stupidly. So that between them the Teachers, and these the Disciples, there hath not been a more ignominious and mortal wound to Faith, to Piety, to the work of Reformation, nor more cause of Blaspheming given to the Enemies of God and Truth, since the first Preaching of Reformation.
The People therefore looking one while on the Statists, whom they beheld without constancy or firmness, labouring doubtfully beneath the weight of their own too high undertakings, busiest in petty things, trifling in the main, deluded and quite alienated, expressed divers ways their disaffection; some despising whom before they honoured, some deserting, some inveighing, some conspiring against them. Then looking on the Church-men, whom they saw under subtle Hypocrisie to have Preached their own Follies, most of them not the Gospel, Time-servers, Covetous, Illiterate Persecutors, not lovers of the Truth, like in most things whereof they accused their Predecessors: Looking on all this, the People which had been kept warm a while with the counterfeit zeal of their Pulpits, after a false heat, became more cold and obdurate than before, some turning to Lewdness, some to flat Atheism, put beside their old Religion, and foully scandalized in what they expected should be new.
Thus they who of late were extoll'd as our greatest Deliverers, and had the People wholly at their Devotion, by so discharging their Trust as we see, did not only weaken and unfit themselves to be dispensers of what Liberty they pretended, but unfitted also the People, now grown worse and more disordinate, to receive or to digest any Liberty at all. For Stories teach us, that Liberty sought out of season, in a corrupt and degenerate Age, brought Rome itself into a farther Slavery: For Liberty hath a sharp and double edge, fit only to be handled by Just and Vertuous Men; to bad and dissolute, it becomes a mischief unweildy in their own hands: neither is it compleatly given, but by them who have the happy skill to know what is grievance, and unjust to a People, and how to remove it wisely; what good Laws are wanting, and how to frame them substantially, that good Men may enjoy the freedom which they merit, and the bad the Curb which they need. But to do this, and to know these exquisite proportions, the Heroick Wisdom which is required, surmounted far the Principles of these narrow Politicians: what wonder then if they sunk as these unfortunate Britains before them, entangled and opprest with things too hard, and generous above their strain and temper? For Britain, to speak a truth not often spoken, as it is a Land fruitful enough of Men stout and courageous in War, so is it naturally not over-fertile of Men able to govern justly and prudently in Peace, trusting only in their Mother-Wit; who consider not justly, that Civility, Prudence, love of the Publick good, more than of Money or vain Honour, are to this Soyl in a manner Outlandish; grow not here, but in minds well implanted with solid and elaborate Breeding, too impolitick else and rude, if not headstrong and intractable to the industry and vertue either of executing or understanding true Civil Government. Valiant indeed, and prosperous to win a field; but to know the end and Reason of winning, unjudicious and unwise: in good or bad Success alike unteachable. For the Sun which we want, ripens Wits as well as Fruits; and as Wine and Oyl are Imported to us from abroad: so must ripe Understanding, and many civil Vertues, be imported into our minds from Forreign Writings, and examples of best Ages, we shall else miscarry still, and come short in the attempts of any great Enterprise. Hence did their Victories prove as fruitless, as their losses dangerous; and left them still conquering under the same grievances, that men suffer conquered: which was indeed unlikely to go otherwise, unless men more than vulgar bred up, as few of them were, in the knowledge of Antient and Illustrious Deeds, invincible against money and vain Titles, impartial to Friendships and Relations, had conducted their Affairs: but then from the Chapman to the Retailer, many whose Ignorance was more audacious than the rest, were admitted with all their sordid Rudiments to bear no mean sway among them, both in Church and State.
From the confluence of all their Errors, Mischiefs, and Misdemeanours, what in the eyes of Man could be expected, but what befel those Antient Inhabitants whom they so much resembled, Confusion in the end?
But on these things, and this Parallel, having enough insisted, I return to the story which gave us matter of this Digression.