The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

September 10, 2016

September 10, 1677

James Harrington (January 3, 1611 to September 10, 1677,), was, we read in his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article, a "political theorist." He is today an obscure figure and so we expand on his life a bit.

It may be difficult to follow the concerns which shape his views, but they are the same as occupied the great political theorists (Eric Voegelin, Leo Strauss) of the mid 20th century: to find order, and find how to preserve this order, so men may live peaceably together. At the bottom of our excerpts from the ODNB, there is a picture from one of his letters, of bringing people together, as if they were cats in a tableau, to achieve a common goal. It is his 'cats making green sauce' picture. That will make more sense if you glance first at the life of this scholar.

Harrington's ...immediate family was a minor branch of the ancient and far-flung Harrington family, which had included royal favourites and generations of civic dignitaries and was related to the high nobility by either descent or marriage....[Our subject] was the cousin of Sir James Harrington, third baronet, of Ridlington... Several ... Harringtons were ... associated with the parliamentarian side, and a letter survives to suggest that Clarendon viewed the whole extended Harrington family with hostility, ... But although both Sir James and his cousin were with the king at Carisbrooke, there is no suggestion of any personal closeness between them.
The James Harrington who is the subject of this article was never knighted and held no public office. Little is known of his financial circumstances, but he seems to have been comfortably off from inherited properties. He was able to live as a private scholar on his estates and, from the mid-1650s until his death, in a house named Little Ambry near Dean's Yard, Westminster, and to provide for his brother and three sisters, as well as his stepmother, two half-brothers, and two stepsisters, his father having married again after the death of James's mother. The family was remarkably close. Two of his sisters who married well, Elisabeth into the Assheton (or Ashton) family and Anne into the Evelyn family, were especially devoted to him. He made his brother William's children his heirs at his death; he himself died childless. In 1675, only two years before his death, he married a Mrs Dayrell, his 'old sweetheart' ...the daughter of Sir Marmaduke Dayrell (or Dorell) of Buckinghamshire. In person he was reckoned very good company, an excellent conversationalist, amiable, and generous. He had no personal enemies and many devoted friends, and was highly gregarious. ...He shared the enthusiasm of his times for tobacco, coffee, and (it appears) Rhenish wines.

.... He inherited his father's estate in 1629 while legally still a minor but the indulgence of his guardian, his grandmother Lady Samwell, allowed him to travel abroad in 1631 and to remain there for several years. He first enlisted in an English volunteer regiment in the Netherlands to sustain the cause of the elector palatine, whose wife, Elizabeth, daughter of James I and VI, had been tutored by a distant relation of his. ....he evidently made a good impression at the court of the elector since he not only accompanied him to Denmark, but at the age of twenty-one became in effect his agent in England. ...He subsequently travelled in the Netherlands and in Germany, France, and Italy. .. Harrington,
[later stressed] the importance of travel as well as the study of history for the understanding and practice of politics. Although he 'retired to his library' for years on end, no inventory of its contents at any point remains. He was unquestionably highly erudite in humaniores litterae, even publishing a translation of Virgil's Aeneid (2 vols., 1658 and 1659); according to [John Aubrey, author of Brief Lives] Harrington's close friend Henry Neville dissuaded him from further efforts at poetry. By the 1650s he had an extensive knowledge of the history and political literature of the Italian republics, especially Venice, and in time became very familiar with British and continental 'antiquities'....

Neither the date of Harrington's return from the continent (perhaps as late as 1636) nor his activities during Britain's critical political period until 1647 are known; he is, however, said to have twice lent substantial sums of money to parliament in 1641 and 1642 ... An unconfirmed story ....has him accompanying Charles I to Scotland during the first bishops' war in 1639 as gentleman of the privy chamber extraordinary; another ... is that he offered to stand for Stamford in the parliamentarian interest; he was perhaps collecting money for the parliamentarian cause in Lincolnshire in 1645, but it seems entirely unlikely that he was parliamentary commissioner for Holland in Lincolnshire in 1647 and 1648 .... Toland, apparently the last person with access to Harrington's papers, knew of no public office of any kind held by Harrington, and his assertion that 'his natural inclination to study kept him from seeking after any public employments' ...was perhaps his attempt to explain why Harrington in this respect did not follow either family tradition or the practice of his relatives. Certainly, however, he became with Sir Thomas Herbert a gentleman groom of the royal bedchamber, attending on Charles I during his captivity at Holmby House from May 1647 to the end of that year, and again at Carisbrooke and at Hurst Castle in 1648. He was among the king's servants who bravely stood up to Cornet Joyce's attempt to remove the king from Holmby to London by force.

Charles, to whom Harrington was personally devoted, greatly valued his company and conversation .... Herbert .... mentions only that the king asked Harrington and himself for their verdict on his translation of Dr Saunderson's De juramentis, all three of them being very considerable linguists. According to Toland's reworking of the story they talked politics (which seems inevitable) but not of commonwealths. Nothing whatever is reliably established about Harrington's opinions at this time, except that he freely expressed favourable opinions on the king in general, and his conduct over the treaty of Newport in particular, and it was because of this that some parliamentarians doubted his reliability and secured his dismissal from Charles's attendance, to the latter's chagrin. .... The execution, however, unquestionably distressed Harrington immeasurably. ....

Harrington had by this time returned to live at Rand. Nothing more is known until 1656, by which time he had recently moved to Little Ambry in Westminster, and had (according to his own account) been working somewhat under two years on his masterpiece,
Oceana. The work appeared between September and November 1656,....according to Toland it was the intercession of Cromwell's favourite daughter that eventually made publication possible ..... While the approximate ideological context of Oceana can be satisfactorily reconstructed, Harrington's personal and political connections at this time cannot. By 1658 his circle included persons associated with the Good Old Cause, anti-Cromwellians, and even the former Levellers John Wildman and Maximilian Petty, as well as the radical John Streater, one of the publishers of Oceana. Harrington counted Henry Neville MP, Andrew Marvell, and Aubrey himself among his close friends but it is not known when or how his association with them began. ....Aubrey is again the sole witness for his claim that Thomas Hobbes suspected Neville of actually having had a hand in its composition; Aubrey gives no evidence for his claim, though there is no reason why he should have invented it. Hobbes's Behemoth (written about 1668), however, betrays no knowledge of Oceana and does not mention Neville. There is nothing to suggest that Harrington was not the sole author.
Oceana, on which Harrington's contemporary and much more his posthumous reputation rested, earned him not only disciples but also critics, although not as many of the latter as he seems to have wished. Hobbes, whom he had attacked in Oceana (albeit highly respectfully) for having failed, among other faults, to distinguish between authority and power, never replied. .... During the confused period following Oliver Cromwell's death on 3 September 1658, Harringtonian opinions about the political order conducive to a permanent settlement for England were frequently voiced in Richard Cromwell's parliament in 1659, but to no avail: Harrington's main concern at this time was to prevent the restoration of anything like a hereditary House of Lords or a nominated replacement, but the parliament voted for the restoration of the Lords. ....

Harrington's most intensive period of publication, as well as his most direct participation in Commonwealth politics, began after the dissolution of this parliament by the army and the restoration of the Rump Parliament in May 1659. On 6 July 1659 Harrington's circle presented to the restored Rump "The Humble Petition of Divers Well-Affected Persons." It advocated a 'senate' (an upper house) of 300 members, one-third of them subject to election annually (the favourite Harringtonian idea of 'rotation'), ....Parliament politely ignored the proposal. Some of the most ardent republicans such as Sir Henry Vane were bitterly opposed to Harringtonian ideas, especially since Harrington rejected the republic ruled by the godly advocated by Vane and Milton (against whom Harrington also intended to write) as much as any other kind of permanent oligarchy. Harrington propagated his ideas, ..., in the 'Rota', a sort of club or select debating society which met from October 1659 in Miles's Coffee House at the Turke's Head, New Palace Yard, on the Thames Embankment. Aubrey remarks on the high quality of the discussions, the numbers and salience of those attending, and also on the fact that proposals were formally voted on; Samuel Pepys was prepared to pay to become a member.

Harrington professed himself a devotee and a restorer (following in Machiavelli's footsteps) of what he termed 'ancient prudence', by which he meant the political institutions and wisdom of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Israelites that constituted a 'government of laws, not of men'. According to Harrington, ancient prudence taught that freedom and political stability depend crucially on a strict separation of tasks between the people and its 'natural aristocracy'-that is, those in a state or any other association whose moral authority and superior competence the rest will readily acknowledge. The natural aristocracy must have the exclusive right to 'debate', in other words to deliberate, advise, and propose what is to be done. The people must have an equally exclusive right of 'result', that is, to decide on law and policy without discussion. Any confusion between the two roles of 'debate' and 'result' would be fatal, not least because this institutional separation for Harrington guaranteed that the self-interest of each assembly would be neutralized by its dependence on the other.

.... Nor was there now any reason to attempt to restore the always inherently unstable modern (or 'Gothic') balance of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, characteristic especially of feudal monarchy, which Harrington dismissively called 'modern prudence'. Its instability had merely been disguised during Queen Elizabeth's reign by her 'love-tricks' with her people. .. Harrington, like Machiavelli, held that a popular commonwealth must be expansionist and martial.

The central institution of Harrington's model is the bicameral parliament, composed of a deliberative 'senate' of the prudent with 300 members, and a much larger assembly of the people ('the prerogative tribe') as the supreme legislature and judiciary. One of Harrington's more fanciful notions was that the latter, composed of well over 1000 representatives, was to vote without any kind of debate on proposals from the senate. .... All public offices were subject to 'rotation', and all holders of public office were to be salaried. Underpinning the whole order was to be an 'Agrarian Law' limiting how much property any individual might acquire or inherit, in order to prevent excessive concentrations of property....

Harrington's particular animus was directed against any permanent oligarchy, whether clerical (in which regard he recognized himself, as others recognized him, as having much in common with Hobbes), godly, military, or hereditary. He presented himself as an aggressive advocate of 'popular government' (or even 'democracy') and 'equality' at a time when these were virtually synonymous with disorder. His use of these terms and of the whole vocabulary of classical republicanism was, however, idiosyncratic and perhaps deliberately provocative. His model commonwealth was 'popular' and 'equal' in the sense that citizens were rulers and ruled by turns, and that all authority ultimately reposed on popular consent. In any other sense it was markedly aristocratic and hierarchical at every level from local government to the councils of state. Higher property qualifications governed eligibility for the senate, the cavalry, and all high office, ... some property was, however, a prerequisite even for the franchise. 'The people' of Harrington's 'popular' commonwealth excluded not only women, but also the vague and broad category of 'servants'; divines, lawyers, and bachelors were entitled to vote but not to be elected, ....And the commonwealth was free in that it excluded oppression, but in every other respect the entire purpose of the institutions of Oceana was to place all citizens and office-holders in a position in which they had no alternative but to be virtuous. The design of his model was to ensure that 'no man or men ... can have the interest, or, having the interest, can have the power to disturb [the commonwealth] with sedition'. Even former royalists could therefore be safely admitted to citizenship. His preoccupation was not with individual autonomy but with political stability. In his 'government of laws, not of men', the 'laws' ('orders') were the institutional order, and their purpose was to immunize the commonwealth for ever against private interests and factions ('men'), and against any political conflict whatever. ...he denied any right of resistance and freely acknowledged the need for a sovereign in any commonwealth, he at no point placed any reliance upon the unsecured civic virtue of anyone, and the contemporary whom he most resembles in preoccupations was Hobbes, whom Harrington admired as 'the best writer at this day in the world' ....

.... Equally, however, there was to be freedom of conscience for all Christians except Roman Catholics.
..... It evidences no diminution in his intellectual powers, but also no sense on his part of any need to revise his previous ideas in the light of the Restoration, which he had not anticipated before 1660. Even in 1660 he thought it would be impermanent if it were to take place. He was not molested at the Restoration, and is even said to have outlined a model for a restored monarchy for the use of the royal court. But on 28 December 1661 he was arrested and his papers were seized. This was perhaps because of the malice of Clarendon against the Harringtons generally. Harrington's sisters claimed that the arrest was based on a (very unlikely) confusion, since the warrant was in the name of Sir James Harrington (Toland, para. 32); the latter had been specifically exempted from the Act of Indemnity, condemned in 1661 to life imprisonment and forfeiture of all his possessions, and was then in hiding. But more probably Harrington was arrested on suspicion of complicity with the Bow Street circle of Commonwealthsmen 'plotters' which included John Wildman and Praisegod Barebone. He was imprisoned without trial in the Tower and badly treated there until his sisters Elizabeth, Lady Assheton, and Anne Evelyn bribed the lieutenant. He was interrogated by Lauderdale (who acknowledged that he was a remote 'kinsman' of Harrington) and others to establish any recent contacts with the plotters; Harrington's record of the interrogation was published by Toland. His sisters obtained a writ of habeas corpus in April 1662, but to frustrate it he was spirited away to St Nicholas Island, off the coast of Plymouth. After his brother and his uncle posted a bond for the enormous sum of £1000 (Toland says £5000), he was released to the fort at Plymouth because of his gravely deteriorated mental and physical health. Apparently treatment with guaiacum, an addictive drug in vogue at the time, which he took in his coffee, made his mental condition much worse. As a result of a petition by the earl of Bath to Charles II on account of Harrington's alarming physical and mental condition, a warrant was issued for his release.

Harrington lived for another fifteen years in Little Ambry, but very little is known about this period of his life. ....Toland treats Harrington's late marriage as evidence that he 'was not himself'... He certainly suffered from intermittent delusions, notably that his perspiration turned into flies, but was otherwise rational and sociable, according to Aubrey who continued to visit him. He was looked after by his 'true friend' Henry Neville. He never recovered his health, suffering from gout and palsy, and in his last year he was paralysed by a stroke. ....

Wood claims that after the Restoration Harrington was 'reputed no better than a whimsical and crack'd brain'd person'.... and Montesquieu regarded him as a utopian. Hume, however, thought much better of his work. Nevertheless Harringtonian themes already re-emerged during the exclusion crisis, and in the eighteenth century Harrington became one of the principal authorities in England and especially in America for Commonwealth's men...

More dramatically, perhaps, Harrington was clearly being read by radical lawyers during the French Revolution, and the French constitution of 1799 (at least until it was subverted by Napoleon) was clearly modelled on parts of the Oceana. He was not one of the English radicals of the revolution lionized by nineteenth-century progressives. But he was invoked by R. H. Tawney in a highly influential British Academy lecture as the spokesman for 'the operation of impersonal, constant and, it might be measurable, forces, which, to be controlled, needed to be understood'-of social engineering no less ... His restoration as a pioneer in applying the theories of Machiavelli and of other civic humanists to English political society and social conditions had to wait until the appearance of the first critical edition of his writings in 1977, edited by J. G. A. Pocock as The Political Works of James Harrington.

The Oceana, and other works of James Harrington, esq; collected, methodiz'd, and review'd, with an exact account of his life prefix'd is the title of James Harrington's major work.  John Toland edited this posthumous production for a 1737 publication.

His letters were included in the volume, and from one letter we find this picture:

The Italians are a grave and prudent Nation, yet in some Things no less extravagant than the wildest; particularly in their Carnival...about Shrovetide: in these they are all Mummers, not with our Modesty, in the Night, but for divers Days together, and before the Sun; during which Time, one would think by the Strangeness of their Habit, that Italy were once more overrun by Goths and Vandals, ...there being at this Time such Variety of Shapes and Pageants. Among these, at Rome I saw one, which represented a Kitchen, with all the proper Utensils in Use and Action. The Cooks were all Cats and Kitlings, set in such Frames, so ty'd and so ordered that the poor Creatures could make no Motion to get loose, but the same caused one to turn the Spit, another to baste the Meat, a third to skim the Pot, and a ſourth to make Green sauce. If the Frame of your Commonwealth be not such, as causeth every one to perform his certain Function as necessarily as this did the Cat to make Green sauce, it is not right. ' 'But what talk we of Frames. or Orders? Though we have no 'certain Frame, no fitting Orders, yet in this Balance there are Bounds, set even by his Hand, without the Raging of the Sea, and the Madness of His People. Let the more wary Cavalier, or the fiery Presbyterian march up when he may into the Van, he shall lead this Nation into a Commonwealth, or into certain Perdition. But if the 'old Officers, Men for the greater Part of small Fortunes, but all of large Souls, ancient Heroes, that dared to expose themselves unto Ruin for their Country, be restored unto their most deserved Commands, this will be done, and done without a bloody Nose, or a cut

We hope ye are Saints; but if you be Men, look with all your Might, with all your Prudence, above all, with fervent Imploration of GOD's gracious Assistance, who is visibly crowning you, unto the well-ordering of your Commonwealth. In the Manner consists the main Matter. ....

This phrasing I suggest compares the animals bound into a moving framework for a carnival show, with the greater complexity needed to bringing people together for the goals of creating a society.

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