Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

cies, and that at the last thou hast permitted me to be singled out as a witness of thy truth; and even by the confession of my opposers, for that Old Cause,' in which I was from my youth engaged, and for which thou hast often and wonderfully declared thyself.”

[ocr errors]

Sidney suspecting that the sheriffs might suppress it, took the precaution of giving a copy of it to a friend. And it being understood that written copies were dispersed, it was printed; though not till a fortnight after the


No work of Algernon Sidney is now extant, but his "Discourses concerning Government," and some letters to Henry Saville, esq. though he says himself that he "believed he had burned more papers of his own writing, than a horse could carry." There still remain however at Penshurst, in his own hand-writing, treatises in Latin and Italian; as also an Essay on Virtuous Love, in English. His "Discourses" were first published in 1698, folio, and reprinted in 1704. But a more beautiful edition appeared in 1751, to which are added, "Memoirs of his Life, and an Apology for himself, both now first published, and

the latter from his original MS. with an alphabetical Index of the principal Matters."

The title to the above Letters is "Letters of the Honourable Algernon Sidney, to the Honourable Henry Saville, Ambassador in France, in the year 1679, &c.; now first printed from the Originals in Mr. Sidney's own hand." London, 1742, 8vo.-They relate chiefly to the proceedings of parliament, and the popish plot. Several of his letters too are inserted in the Letters and Memorials of State of the Sidney Family, published by Arthur Collins, esq.

The Discourses concerning Government are divided into three chapters, which are again subdivided into sections. They were written in reply to a book of sir Robert Filmer on the subject of monarchy. The author begins:

Having lately seen a book, intitled "Patriarcha," written by sir Robert Filmer, concerning the univer sal and undistinguished right of all kings, I thought a time of leisure might be well employed in examining his doctrine, and the questions arising from it; which seem so far to concern all mankind, that, besides the influence upon our future life, they may be said to comprehend all that in this world deserves to be

cared for. If he say true, there is but one govern. ment in the world that can have any thing of justice in it: and those who have hitherto been esteemed the best and wisest of men, for having constituted commonwealths or kingdoms, and taken much pains so to proportion the powers of several magistracies, that they might all concur in procuring the public good, or so to divide the powers between the magistrates and people, that a well regulated harmony might be preserved in the whole, were the most unjust and foolish of all men. They were not builders, but overthrowers of governments: their business was to set up aristoeratical, democratical, or mixed governments, in opposition to that monarchy which, by the immutable laws of God and nature, is imposed upon mankind; or presumptuously to put shackles upon the monarch, who, by the same laws, is to be absolute and uncontrouled: they were rebellious and disobedient sons, who rose up against their father; and not only refused to hearken to his voice, but made him bend to their will. In their opinion, such only deserved to be called good men, who endeavoured to be good to mankind, or to that country to which they were more particularly related and inasmuch as that good consists in a felicity of estate, and perfection of person, they highly valued such as had endeavoured to make men better, wiser, and happier. This they understood to be the end for which

men entered into societies: and though Cicero says, that commonwealths were instituted for the obtaining of justice, he contradicts them not, but comprehends all in that word; because it is just, that whosoever receives a power, should employ it wholly for the accomplishment of the ends for which it was given. This work could be performed only by such as excelled in virtue; but lest they should deflect from it, no government was thought to be well constituted, unless the laws prevailed above the commands of men; and they were accounted as the worst of beasts, who did not prefer such a condition before a subjection to the fluctuating and irregular will of a man.

* *

In the first lines of his book he seems to denounce war against mankind, endeavouring to overthrow the principle of liberty in which God created us, and which includes the chief advantages of the life we enjoy, as well as the greatest helps towards the felicity that is the end of our hopes in the other. To this end he absurdly imputes to the school divines that which was taken up by them as a common notion, written in the heart of every man, denied by none but such as were degenerated into beasts, from whence they might prove such points as of themselves were less evident. * * *

Though the schoolmen were corrupt, they were neither stupid nor unlearned: they could not but see

that which all men saw, nor lay more approved foundations, than that man is naturally free; that he cannot justly be deprived of that liberty without cause; and that he doth not resign it, or any part of it, unless it be in consideration of a greater good, which he proposes to himself.

The error of not observing this may perhaps deserve to be pardoned in a man that had read no books, as proceeding from ignorance; if such as are grossly ignorant can be excused, when they take upon them to write of such matters as require the highest knowledge. But in sir Robert it is prevarication and fraud, to impute to schoolmen and puritans that which in his first page he acknowledged to be the doctrine of all reformed and unreformed christian churches, and that he knows to have been the principle in which the Grecians, Italians, Spaniards, Gauls, Germans, and Britons, and all other generous nations ever lived, before the name of Christ was known in the world; insomuch that the base effe minate Asiatics and Africans, for being careless of their liberty, or unable to govern themselves, were by, Aristotle and other wise men called "Slaves by Nature," and looked upon as little different from beasts.

* * *

Such as have reason, understanding, or common sense, will and ought to make use of it in those things that concern themselves and their posterity,

« AnteriorContinuar »