Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Author of Oceana
By Anthony Wood (16321695)
From the Life of Harrington in the Athenæ Oxonienses
NOW lets return to our author Harrington, who, when he thought that after the death of his master monarchy would never be restored, he followed his own geny,1 which lay chiefly towards politics and democratical government. He made several essays on poetry, as in writing of love verses, and translating of Virgils Eclogues, but his muse was rough, and Harry Nevill, an ingenious and well-bred gentleman, and a good (but conceited) poet, being his familiar and confident friend, dissuaded him from tampering with poetry, and to apply himself to the improvement of his proper talent, viz. politics and political reflections. Whereupon he wrote The Commonwealth of Oceana, and caused it to be printed at London. At the appearance of which, it was greedily bought up, and coming into the hands of Hobbes of Malmsbury, he would often say that H. Nevill had a finger in that pie; and those that knew them both were of the same opinion, and by that book and both their smart discourses and inculcatures daily in coffee-houses, they obtained many proselytes. In 1659, in the beginning of Michaelmas term, they had every night a meeting at the then Turks-head in the new palace yard at Westminster, (the next house to the stairs where people take water) called Miless coffee-house, to which place their disciples and virtuosi would commonly then repair; and their discourses about government and of ordering of a commonwealth, were the most ingenious and smart that ever were heard, for the arguments in the parliament house were but flat to those. This gang had a balloting box, and balloted how things should be carried, by way of tentamens; which being not used or known in England before, upon this account the room every evening was very full. Besides our author and H. Nevill, who were the prime men of this club, were Cyrack Skinner, a merchants son of London, an ingenious young gentleman, and scholar to John Milton, which Skinner sometimes held the chair; Major John Wildman, Charles Wolseley of Staffordshire, Roger Coke, Will Poultney (afterwards a knight), who sometimes held the chair; John Hoskyns, John Aubrey, Maximilian Pettie of Telsworth in Oxfordshire, a very able man in these matters, and who had more than once turned the council board of Oliver Cromwell; Michael Mallet, Ph. Carteret of the Isle of Guernsey, Francis Cradock, a merchant; Henry Ford; Major Venner, nephew to Dr. Tobias Venner the physician; Thos. Marriett of Warwickshire, Henry Croone, a physician; Edw. Bagshaw of Christ Church, and sometimes Robert Wood of Lincoln College and James Arderne, then or soon after a divine, with many others besides, antagonists or auditors of note, whom I cannot now name. Dr. Will Petty was a Rota-man, and would sometimes trouble John Harrington in his club, and one Stafford, a gent. of Northamptonshire, who used to be an auditor, did with his gang come among them one evening, very mellow from the tavern, and did much affront the junto, and tore in pieces their orders and minutes. The soldiers who commonly were there as auditors and spectators would have kicked them downstairs, but Harringtons moderation and persuasion hindered them. The doctrine was very taking, and the more because as to human foresight there was no possibility of the kings return. The greatest of the parliament men hated this design of rotating and balloting, as against their power. Eight or ten were for it, of which number Henry Nevill was one, who proposed it to the House, and made it out to the members thereof, that except they embraced that way of government they would be ruined. The model of it was, that the third part of the senate or House should rote out by ballot every year, so that every ninth year the said senate would be wholly altered. No magistrate was to continue above three years, and all to be chosen by ballot; than which choice nothing could be invented more fair and impartial, as twas then thought, though opposed by many for several reasons. This club of commonwealths men lasted till about the 21st of February 1659; at which time the secluded members being restored by General George Monk, all their models vanished. After the kings restoration, our author Harrington retired and lived in private, but being looked upon as a dangerous person, he, with Major John Wildman, and Praise-god Barbon a notorious schismatic, were committed prisoners to the Tower of London, 26th November 1661, where, continuing for some time, Harrington was transmitted to Portsea Castle, and kept there for several months. Afterwards being set at liberty, he travelled into Italy, where, talking of models, commonwealths, and government, he was reputed no better than a whimsical or crack-brained person. Tis true that his close restraint, which did not agree with his high spirit, and hot and rambling head, was the protarctic cause of his deliration or madness; I do not mean outrageousness, for he would discourse rationally enough, and be facetious in company, but a deep conceit and fancy that his perspiration turned into flies, and sometimes into bees. Which fancy possessed him a whole year before he died, his memory and discourse being then taken away by a disease. So that he, who had been before a brisk and lively chevalier, was then made a sad example of mortality to H. Nevill (who did not leave him to his last) and others of his intimate acquaintance, who much lamented his loss.