The Digression.

in Miltons History of England.

To com in Lib. 3 page 110. after these words.

[from one misery to another].

BUT because the gaining or loosing of libertie is the greatest change to better or to worse that may befall a nation under civil goverment, and so discovers, as nothing more, what degree of understanding, or capacitie, what disposition to justice and civilitie there is among them, I suppose it will bee many wayes profitable to resume a while the whole discourse of what happn'd in this Iland soone after the Romans goeing out: and to consider what might bee the reason, why, seeing other nations both antient and modern with extreame hazard & danger have strove for libertie as a thing invaluable, & by the purchase thereof have soe enobl'd thir spirits, as from obscure and small to grow eminent and glorious commonwealths, why the Britans having such a smooth occasion giv'n them to free themselves as ages have not afforded, such a manumission as never subjects had a fairer, should let it pass through them as a cordial medcin through a dying man without the least effect of sence or natural vigor. And no less to purpose if not more usefully to us it may bee enquir'd, since god after 12 ages and more had drawne so neare a parallel betweene their state and ours in the late commotions, why they who had the chiefe management therin having attain'd, though not so easilie, to a condition which had set before them civil goverment in all her formes, and giv'n them to be masters of thir own choise, were not found able after so many years doeing and undoeing to hitt so much as into any good and laudable way that might shew us hopes of a just and well amended common-wealth to come. For those our ancestors it is alledg'd, that thir youth and chiefe strength was carried over sea to serve the empire, that the Scots and the Picts and Saxons lay sore upon them without respit. And yet wee heare the Romans telling them that thir enimies were not stronger then they: when as one legion drove them twice out of the Ile at first encounter. Nor could the Brittans be so ignorant of warr whome the Romans had then newly instructed; of if they were to seeke, alike were thir enimies, rude and naked barbarians. But that they were so timorous and without heart, as Gildas reportes them, is no way credible; for the same hee reportes of those whom the Romans testifie to have found valiant. Wherof these alsoe gave not the least prooff, when a few of them, and these in thir greatest weakness takeing courage, not defended themselves onely against the Scots and the Picts, but repuls'd them well beaten home. Of these who swayd most in the late troubles, few words as to this point may suffice, they had armies, leaders, and successes to thir wish; but to make use of so great advantages was not thir skill. To other causes therefore and not to the want of force, or warlike manhood in the Brittans, both those, and these lately, wee must impute to the ill husbanding of those faire opportunities, which might seeme to have put libertie, so long desir'd, like a bridle into thir hands. Of which other causes equally belonging both to ruler, priest, and people above hath bin related; which as they brought those antient natives to miserie and ruin by libertie which rightly us'd might have made them happie, so brought they these of late after many labours, much blood-shed, & vast expence, to ridiculous frustration, in whom the like defects, the like miscarriages notoriouslie appear'd, with vices not less hatefull or inexcusable; nor less inforcing, whosoever shall write thir storie, to revive those antient complaints of Gildas as deservedly on these lately as on those his times. For a parlament being call'd, and as was thought many things to redress, the people with great courage & expectation to be now eas'd of what discontented them chose to thir behooff in parlament such as they thought best affected to the public good, & some indeed men of wisedom and integritie. The rest, and to be sure the greatest part whom wealth and ample possessions or bold and active ambition rather then merit had commended to the same place, when once the superficial zeale and popular fumes that acted thir new magistracie were cool'd and spent in them, straite every one betooke himself, setting the common-wealth behinde and his private ends before, to doe as his owne profit or ambition led him. Then was justice delai'd & soone after deny'd, spite and favour determin'd all: hence faction, thence treacherie both at home & in the field, ev'ry where wrong & oppression, foule and dishonest things commited daylie, or maintain'd in secret or in op'n. Some who had bin calld from shops & warehouses, without other merit, to sit in supreme councels & committees, as thir breeding was, fell to hucster the common-wealth; others did thereafter as men could sooth and humour them best: so that hee onely who could give most, or under covert of hypocritical zeal insinuate basest enjoy'd unworthylie the rewards of learning & fidelitie, or escap'd the punishment of his crimes and misdeeds. Thir votes and ordinances which men look'd should have contain'd the repealing of bad laws & the immediate constitution of better, resounded with nothing els but new impositions, taxes, excises, yearlie, monthlie, weeklie, not to reck'n the offices, gifts, and preferments bestow'd and shar'd among themselves. They in the meane while who were ever faithfullest to thir cause, and freely aided them in person, or with thir substance when they durst not compel either, slighted soon after and quite bereav'd of thir just debts by greedy sequestration, were toss'd up and downe after miserable attendance from one committie to another with petitions in thir hands, yet either miss'd' the obtaining of thir suit, or if it were at length granted by thir orders, meere shame & reason oft times extorting from them at least a shew of justice, yet by thir sequestrators & subcommitties abroad, men for the most part of insatiable hands, & noted disloyaltie, those orders were commonlie disobey'd; which for certaine durst not have bin, without secret complyance, if not compact with some superiours able to beare them out. Thus were thir friends confiscate in thir enimies, while they forfeted thir debtors to the state, as they call'd it, but indeed to the ravning seisure of innumerable theeves in office, yet were withall no less burden'd in all extraordinarie assessments and oppressions then whom they tooke to be disaffected. Nor were wee happier creditours to the state then to them who were sequester'd as the states enimies; for that faith which ought to bee kept as sacred and inviolable as any thing holy, the public faith, after infinite summs receiv'd & all the wealth of the church, not better imploy'd, but swallow'd up into a private gulfe, was not ere long asham'd to confess bankrupt. And now besides the sweetness of briberie and other gaine with the love of rule, thir owne guiltiness and the dreaded name of just account, which the people had long call'd for discover'd plainelie that there were of thir own number who secretly contriv'd and fomented those troubles and combustions in the land which openly they sate to remedy, & would continually finde such worke, as should keepe them from ever being brought to the terrible stand of laying downe thir authoritie for lack of new business, or not drawing it out to any length of time though upon the necessarie ruin of a whole nation. And if the state were in this plight, religion was not in much better: to reforme which a certaine number of divines were call'd, neither chosen by any rule or custome ecclesiastical, nor eminent for either piety or knowledge above others left out; onelie as each member of parlament in his private fancie thought fit, so elected one by one. The most of them were such as had preach'd and cry'd downe with great shew of zeal the avarice & pluralities of bishops and prelates; that one cure of soules was a full imployment for one spiritual pastor how able so ever, if not a charge rather above humane strength. Yet these conscientious men, ere any part of the worke done for which they came together, and that on the public salarie, wanted not impudence to the ignominie and scandal of thir pastor-like proffession & especially of thir boasted reformation, to seise into thir hands or not unwillinglie to accept (besides one sometimes two or more of the best Livings) collegiat masterships in the universitie, rich lectures in the cittie, setting saile to all windes that might blow gaine into thir covetous bosomes. By which meanes these great rebukers of nonresidence among so many distant cures were not asham'd to be seen so quicklie pluralists and nonresidents themselves; to a feareful condemnation doubtless by thir owne mouthes. And yet the main doctrin for which they tooke such pay, and insisted upon with more vehemence then gospel, was but to tell us in effect that thir doctrin was worth nothing and the spiritual power of thir ministrie less availeable then bodilie compulsion; perswading the magistrate to use it as a stronger means to subdue & bring in conscience then evangellic perswasion. But while they taught compulsion without convincement (which not long before they so much complain'd of as executed unchristianlie against themselves) thir intents were cleere to be no other then to have set up a spiritual tyrannie by a secular power to the advancing of thir owne authoritie above the magistrate; And well did thir disciples manifest themselves to be no better principl'd then thir teachers, trusted with committiships and other gainfull offices, upon their commendations for zealous, & as they stick'd not to term them, godlie men, but executing thir places more like childern of the devil, unfaithfully, unjustly, unmercifully, and where not corruptly, stupidly. So that between them the teachers, and these the disciples, there hath not bin a more ignominious and mortal wound to faith, to pietie, nor more cause of blaspheming giv'n to the enimies of god and of truth since the first preaching of reformation; which needed most to have begun in the forwardest reformers themselves. The people therefore looking one while on the statists, whom they beheld without constancie or firmness labouring doubtfully beneath the weight of thir own too high undertakings, busiest in pettie things, triffling in the maine, deluded & quite alienated express'd divers wayes thir disaffection; some despising whom before they honour'd; some deserting, some inveihing, some conspireing against them. Then looking on the Church-men most of whom they saw now to have preach't thir own bellies, rather then the gospel, may illiterate, persecutors more then lovers of the truth, covetous, worldlie, to whom not godliness with contentment seem'd great gaine; but godliness with gaine seemd great contentment, like in many things whereof they had accus'd thir predecessors. Looking on all these the people, who had bin kept warme a while by the affected zele of thir pulpits, after a false heat became more cold, & obdurate then before; som turning to leudness , som to flat atheisme, put beside thir old religion, & fowley scandalis'd in what they expected should be new. Thus they who but of late were extolld as great deliverers, and had a people wholy at thir devotion, by so discharging thir trust as wee see, did not onely weak'n and unfitt themselves to be dispencers of what libertie they pretended, but unfitted also the people, now growne worse & more disordinate, to receave or to digest any libertie at all. For stories teach us that libertie sought out of season in a corrupt and degenerate age brought Rome it self into further slaverie. For libertie hath a sharp and double edge fitt onelie to be handl'd by just and vertuous men, to bad and dissolute it becomes a mischief unwieldie in thir own hands. neither is it compleatlie giv'n, but by them who have the happie skill to know what is greivance and unjust to a people; and how to remove it wiselie; that good men may enjoy the freedom which they merit, and the bad the curb which they need. But to doe this and to know these exquisit proportions, the heroic wisdom which is requir'd surmounted far the principles of narrow politicians: what wonder then if they sunke as those unfortunate Britans before them, entangl'd and oppres'd with things too hard and generous above thir straine and temper. For Britain (to speake a truth not oft spok'n) as it is a land fruitful enough of men stout and couragious in warr, so is it naturallie not over fertil of men able to govern justlie & prudently in peace; trusting onelie on thir Mother-witt, as most doo & consider not that civilitie, prudence, love of the public more then of money or vaine honour are to this soile in a manner outlandish; grow not here but in minds well implanted with solid & elaborate breeding; too impolitic els and too crude, if not headstrong and intractable to the industrie and vertue either of executing or understanding true civil goverment: Valiant indeed and prosperous to winn a field, but to know the end and reason of winning, unjudicious and unwise, in good or bad success alike unteachable. For the sunn, which we want ripens witts as well as fruits; and as wine and oyle are imported to us from abroad, so must ripe understanding and many civil vertues bee imported into our minds from forren writings & examples of best ages: wee shall else miscarry still and com short in the attempt of any great enterprise. Hence did thir victories prove as fruitless as thir losses dangerous, and left them still conquering under the same grievances that men suffer conquerd, which was indeed unlikely to goe otherwise unless, men more then vulgar, bred up, as few of them were, in the knowledge of Antient and illustrious deeds, invincible against money, and vaine titles, impartial to friendships and relations had conducted thir affaires. But then from the chapman to the retaler many, whose ignorance was more audacious then the rest, were admitted with all thir sordid rudiments to beare no mean sway among them both in church and state. From the confluence of all these errors, mischiefs, & misdemeanors, what in the eyes of man could be expected but what befel those antient inhabitants whom they so much resembl'd, confusion in the end. But on these things, and this parallel having anough insisted, I returne back to the storie which gave us matter of this digression.