« PreviousContinue »
Jews to return back to Egypt, and to the worship. of their idol queen, because they falsely imagined that they then lived in more plenty and prosperity; our condition is not sound, but rotten, both in religion and all civil prudence; and will bring us soon, the way we are marching, to those calamities, which attend always and unavoidably on luxury, all national judgments under foreign and domestic slavery: so far we shall be from mending our condition by monarchizing our government, whatever new conceit now possesses us.
THE HISTORY OF BRITAIN.
Y this time, like one who had set out on his way by night, and travelled through a region of smooth or idle
dreams, our history now arrives on the confines, where daylight and truth meet us with a clear dawn, representing to our view, though at a far distance, true colors and shapes.
Worthy deeds are not often destitute of worthy relaters; as, by a certain fate, great acts and great eloquence have most commonly gone hand in hand, equalling and honoring each other in the same ages. It is true, that in obscurest times, by shallow and unskilful writers, the indistinct noise of many battles and devastations of many kingdoms, overrun and lost, hath come to our ears. For what wonder, if in all ages, ambition and the love of rapine hath stirred up greedy and violent men to bold attempts in wasting and ruining wars, which to posterity have left the work of wild beasts and destroyers, rather than the deeds and
monuments of men and conquerors? whose just and true valor uses the necessity of war and dominion not to destroy, but to prevent destruction, to bring in liberty against tyrants, law and civility among barbarous nations, knowing that when he conquers all things else, he cannot conquer Time or Detraction, wisely conscious of this his want, as well as of his worth not to be forgotten or concealed, honors and hath recourse to the aid of eloquence, his friendliest and best supply ; by whose immortal record his noble deeds, which else were transitory, become fixed and durable against the force of years and generations, he fails not to continue through all posterity, over Envy, Death, and Time also victorious. Therefore, when the esteem of science and liberal study waxes low in the commonwealth, we may presume that also there all civil virtue and worthy action is grown as low to a decline: and then eloquence as it were consorted in the same destiny, with the decrease and fall of virtue, corrupts also and fades; at least resigns her office of relating to illiterate and frivolous historians, such as the persons themselves both deserve, and are best pleased with; whilst they want either the understanding to choose better, or the innocence to dare invite the examining and searching style of an intelligent and faithful writer to the survey of their unsound exploits, better befriended by obscurity than fame.
Thus expired this great empire of the Romans;
first in Britain, soon after in Italy itself; having borne chief sway in this island, though never thoroughly subdued, or all at once in subjection, if we reckon from the coming in of Julius, to the taking of Rome by Alaric, in which year Honorius wrote those letters of discharge into Britain, the space of four hundred and sixty-two years. And with the empire fell also what before in this Western world was chiefly Roman; learning, valor, eloquence, history, civility, and even language itself, all these together, as it were, with equal peace, diminishing and decaying. Henceforth we are to steer by another sort of authors; near enough to the things they write, as in their own country, if that would serve; in time not much belated, some of equal age; in expression barbarous, and to say how judicious, I suspend a while: this we must expect; in civil matters to find them dubious relaters, and still to the best advantage of what they term the Holy Church, meaning indeed themselves: in most other matters of religion, blind, astonished, and struck with superstition as with a planet; in one word, monks. Yet these guides, where can be had no better, must be followed; in gross, it may be true enough; in circumstances each man, as his judgment gives him, may reserve his faith, or bestow it.
Of these who swayed most in the late troubles, a 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 warlike manhood in the Britons, both those, and these lately, we must impute 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 ancient natives to misery and ruin, by liberty, which rightly used, might have made them happy; so brought they these of late, after many labors, much bloodshed, and vast expense, to ridiculous frustration, in whom the like defects, the like miscarriages notoriously appeared, with vices not less hateful or inexcusable.
For a Parliament being called, to address many things, as it was thought, the people with great courage, and expectation to be eased of what discontented them, chose their behoof in Parliament, such as they thought best affected to the public 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 cooled, and spent in them, straight every one be