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James Harrington, descended of an ancient and noble family in Rutlandshire, was born in 1611. He entered in l62<) gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, where he became pupil to the famous Dr. Chillingworth. After quitting college, he in a short time departed on his travels, first visiting Holland, at that time the principal school of martial discipline, and (what was still more interesting to him) a country flourishing under the influence of that liberty she had lately wrested from the tyranny of Spain. Here he commenced the study of politics: for he had been often heard to say, that before he left England, he knew no more of monarchy, anarchy, aristocracy; democrary, oligarchy, or trie like, than as hard words, of which he learnt the signification in his dictionary. For some months, he enlisted himself in the regiment of lord Craven, and of sir Robert Stone; and being much at the Hague, was introduced at the court of the prince of Orange, and that of the queen of Bohemia, then a fugitive in Holland. He had an opportunity also of making an excursion to Denmark.
On leaving Holland, he pursued his rout through Flanders, to France and Italy; and on his return to England, was .admitted by the king one of his privy chamber extraordinary. During his stay in Italy, he furnished himself with all the books in the Italian language, which treated of the subject of politics.
When Charles I. was brought by the commissioners appointed for that purpose, from Newcastle nearer to London, Harrington was nominated to wait on his majesty, as a person known to him before, and connected with no faction. The proposal was accepted by 'Charles, and he was made groom of the bedchamber; an office he afterwards lost, because he refused to take an oath, either that he would not assist or conceal the king's escape.
Though Harrington had too much honesty and strength of character to disguise his principles, even to the king; it appears that Charles bad great affection for him,'and reposed in him an entire confidence. Harrington attended him on the scaffold, where he received a tokqn of his regard.
After the king's death, he was observed to confme himself much to his study, a circumstance which his friends attributed to melancholy or discontent. Harrington, however, soon convinced them of their mistake, by exhibiting a copy of his Oceana. The observations, too, with which he accompanied this evidence of his laudable occupation, are highly deserving of attention. He observed, that ever since he began to examine things seriously, he had applied himself chiefly to the study of civil government, as of the first importance to the peace and happiness of mankind; that he had succeeded at least to his own satisfaction, being convinced that no government is of so accidental or arbitrary an institution, as people are wont to imagine, there being in societies natural causes producing their necessary effects, as well as in the earth or in the air. Hence (says he) the trouties of the times are not to be attributed wholly to wilfulness or faction—neither to the misgovernment of the prince nor the stubbornness of the people; but to a change in the balance of property, which since Henry the Seventh's time has been daily falling into the scale of the commons, from that of the king and the lords.
This is a distinct statement of the principle (which is developed in his work) that "Empire follows the balance of property"—a principle of fundamental importance in politics, and for the discovery of which we are indebted to Harrington. Ever intent upon giving currency to his principles, he was member of a club called the Rota, which met in the evening in Ne<v Palace Yard, Westminster, where he delivered discourses on topics connected with his particular system of politics.
After the restoration, Harrington was visited, among others, by a noted royalist, probably with an insidious design, who solicited him to draw up instructions for the king, by which he. might be enabled to govern, with satisfaction to the people and safety to himself. This was performed; but the spirit of these instructions ill accorded with the selfish views of some of1 the courtiers; and on the 28th of December, 1661, he was seized pursuant to an order from his majesty, by sir William'Poultney and others, for treasonable designs and practices, and committed to the Tower. He was afterwards examined concerning a plot he'Was said to have contrived against his majesty's person and government ; but no proof appearing agamst him, he was ultimately released. He died in 1677.
vOL. III. S .
.The Oceana(by which England is designated) k a political Romance, divided into four parts. 1. The Preliminaries, shewing the principles of government. 2. The Council of Legislators, shewing the art of making a commonwealth. 3. The Model of the Commonwealth 0f Oceana, shewing the effect of such an art.. 4. The Corollary, shewing some consequences of such- a government.
In the following passages we have a statement of his general principles.
There is a common right law of nature, or interest «f the 'whole; which is more excellent, and so acknowledged to be by the agents themselves, than the right or interest of the parts only. "Wherefore,