Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
The Kings Misgovernment
By John Milton (16081674)
IT were an endless work to walk side by side with the verbosity of this chapter; only to what already hath not been spoken, convenient answer shall be given. He begins again with tumults: all demonstration of the peoples love and loyalty to the parliament was tumult; their petitioning tumult; their defensive armies were but listed tumults; and will take no notice that those about him, those in a time of peace listed into his own house, were the beginners of all these tumults; abusing and assaulting not only such as came peaceably to the parliament at London, but those that came petitioning to the king himself at York. Neither did they abstain from doing violence and outrage to the messengers sent from parliament; he himself either countenancing or conniving at them.
He supposes that his recess gave us confidence, that he might be conquered. Other men suppose both that and all things else, who knew him neither by nature warlike, nor experienced, nor fortunate; so far was any man, that discerned aught, from esteeming him unconquerable; yet such are readiest to embroil others. But he had a soul invincible. What praise is that? The stomach of a child is ofttimes invincible to all correction. The unteachable man hath a soul to all reason and good advice invincible; and he who is intractable, he whom nothing can persuade, may boast himself invincible; whenas in some things to be overcome, is more honest and laudable than to conquer.
He labours to have it thought, that his fearing God more than man was the ground of his sufferings; but he should have known that a good principle not rightly understood may prove as hurtful as a bad; and his fear of God may be as faulty as a blind zeal. He pretended to fear God more than the parliament, who never urged him to do otherwise; he should also have feared God more than he did his courtiers, and the bishops, who drew him as they pleased to things inconsistent with the fear of God. Thus boasted Saul to have performed the commandment of God, and stood in it against Samuel; but it was found at length, that he had feared the people more than God, in saving those fat oxen for the worship of God, which were appointed for destruction. Not much unlike, if not much worse, was that fact of his, who, for fear to displease his court and mongrel clergy, with the dissolutest of the people, upheld in the church of God, while his power lasted, those beasts of Amalec, the prelates, against the advice of his parliament and the example of all reformation; in this more inexcusable than Saul, that Saul was at length convinced, he to the hour of death fixed in his false persuasion; and soothes himself in the flattering peace of an erroneous and obdurate conscience; singing to his soul vain psalms and exultation, as if the parliament had assailed his reason with the force of arms, and not he on the contrary their reason with his arms; which hath been proved already, and shall be more hereafter.
He twits them with his acts of grace; proud, and unself-knowing words in the mouth of any king, who affects not to be a god, and such as ought to be as odious in the ears of a free nation. For if they were unjust acts, why did he grant them as of grace? If just, it was not of his grace, but of his duty and his oath to grant them. A glorious king he would be, though by his sufferings; but that can never be to him whose sufferings are his own doings. He feigns a hard choice put upon him, either to kill his subjects, or be killed. Yet never was king less in danger of any violence from his subjects, till he unsheathed his sword against them; nay, long after that time, when he had spilt the blood of thousands, they had still his person in a foolish veneration.
He complains that civil war must be the fruits of his seventeen years reigning with such a measure of justice, peace, plenty, and religion, as all nations either admired or envied. For the justice we had, let the council-table, star-chamber, high-commission speak the praise of it; not forgetting the unprincely usage, and as far as might be, the abolishing of parliaments, the displacing of honest judges, the sale of offices, bribery, and exaction, not found out to be punished, but to be shared in with impunity for the time to come. Who can number the extortions, the oppressions, the public robberies and rapines committed on the subject both by sea and land, under various pretences? their possessions also taken from them, one while as forest-land, another while as crown-land; nor were their goods exempted, no, not the bullion in the mint; piracy was become a project owned and authorised against the subject.
For the peace we had, what peace was that which drew out the English to a needless and dishonourable voyage against the Spaniard at Cales? Or that which lent our shipping to a treacherous and antichristian war against the poor protestants of Rochelle our suppliants? What peace was that which fell to rob the French by sea, to the embarring of all our merchants in that kingdom? which brought forth that unblest expedition to the Isle of Rhé, doubtful whether more calamitous in the success, or in the design, betraying all the flower of our military youth and best commanders to a shameful surprisal and execution. This was the peace we had, and the peace we gave, whether to friends or to foes abroad. And if at home any peace were intended us, what meant those Irish billetted soldiers in all parts of the kingdom, and the design of German horse to subdue us in our peaceful houses?
For our religion, where was there a more ignorant, profane, and vicious clergy, learned in nothing but the antiquity of their pride, their covetousness, and superstition? whose unsincere and leavenous doctrine, corrupting the people, first taught them looseness, then bondage; loosening them from all sound knowledge and strictness of life, the more to fit them for the bondage of tyranny and superstition. So that what was left us for other nations not to pity, rather than admire or envy, all those seventeen years, no wise man could see. For wealth and plenty in a land where justice reigns not is no argument of a flourishing state, but of a nearness rather to ruin or commotion.
These were not some miscarriages only of government, which might escape, but a universal distemper, and reducement of law to arbitrary power; not through the evil counsels of some men, but through the constant course and practice of all that were in highest favour: whose worst actions frequently avowing he took upon himself; and what faults did not yet seem in public to be originally his, such care he took by professing and proclaiming openly, as made them all at length his own adopted sins. The persons also, when he could no longer protect, he esteemed and favoured to the end; but never otherwise than by constraint yielded any of them to due punishment; thereby manifesting that what they did was by his own authority and approbation.