James Harrington, A Letter unto Mr. Stubs, in answer to his Oceana Weighed (1659)

James Harrington (1611–1677)  


Note: This is part of the Leveller Collection of Tracts and Pamphlets.



Bibliographical Information

ID Number

T.315 [1659??] James Harrington, A Letter unto Mr. Stubs, in answer to his Oceana Weighed (1659).


This HTML version comes from the 1771 edtiion edited by John Toland: The Oceana and Other Works of James Harrington, with an Account of His Life by John Toland (London: Becket and Cadell, 1771).

Estimated date of publication

March 15, 1660.

Thomason Tracts Catalog information

TT E.1017 (March 15, 1660).

Editor’s Introduction

(Placeholder: Text will be added later.)

Text of Pamphlet

A Letter unto Mr. Stubs, in Answer to his Oceana weighed, &c.

SIR, to begin with the best piece of your work; your quotations in the title page spoiled with ill application, I shall first set right. You see that all councils, all things are upon the rota, upon the wheel. From that rota only which I suppose you mean; what came forth, came forth unfoiled, and as it went in. We do not by this trial despair, but with a little sense, the right institution of such a society may come to compare with Piccadilly, play-houses, or horse-matches; but if these be yet preferred, then indeed

Amphora cæpit

Institui, currente rota, cur urceus exit?

Thus applied there may be sense in this quotation. So for your other, had it been affixed unto your former book, and applied to your self, or those unto whom you wrote journey-work for oligarchy, it might have been well said as in Asinar,

Nunc enim hic est

Negotiosus interdius, videlicet Polon est

Leges ut conscribat, quibus se populus non teneat Gerræ.

Qui sese parere apparent hujus legibus, profecto

Nunquam bonæ frugi stent.

Thus taken, you know it is true. And so your title-page being in part rectified, I come

To your Preface.

Mr. Harrington says, That without a national religion there can be no liberty of conscience. And you answer, That in Athens and Rome there were national religions; therefore in Athens and Rome there was no liberty of conscience; which is so much the more absurd, in that you cite Petit for confirmation of your consequence, who affirms the contrary, and that by undeniable authorities, as may be seen in the second, third, and fourth pages of his discourse upon the Attick laws, the sum whereof amounts unto thus much, That albeit there were in Athens laws for the national religion, yet it by law was in the Areopagites also to give liberty unto any other way of worship, which liberty so given was law, and became a man’s right, whether it were to a publick or private way of worship; in which manner it is affirmed and proved by the same Petit, that into Athens, besides the national religion of that country, were introduced the religions of almost every other country. The same he affirmeth of Rome, where, notwithstanding the national religion therein established by Romulus, it is vulgarly known that scarce any country was subdued by them, whose religion they did not insert into their own.

And where is your truth, who say, That Mr. Harrington entertains us with discourse of Paul’s trial at Athens? Where doth he say that Paul was tried there? Or what saith he of Paul’s preaching there, other than is affirmed by other pens, as that particularly of Grotius? But out of this you fall merrily, as thus: Once upon a time there was a man called William Thomas, therefore William and Thomas must for evermore be one and the same man.

This is your way of disputing, which you carry on in like manner, for example thus:

Every man is to be taxed for that estate whereof he is not owner.

Now Oceana is an estate, whereof Mr. Harrington is not owner.

Therefore Oceana is an estate, for which we are to tax Mr. Harrington.

If the minor be denied, as that Oceana is an estate whereof Mr. Harrington is not owner, your discourse implies this or the like proof of it.

Where any one man and no other is the constant defender of one and the same estate or propriety, that one and the same estate or propriety is not his, but some others.

But Mr. Harrington and no other is the constant defender of Oceana.

Therefore Oceana is no estate or propriety of Mr. Harrington’s, but of some other. Now if it please you,

To the Body of your Work.

Sir, to a man who pretends not to understand a language, it is no shame not to understand that language; but it is a shame to a man, and a scholar who pretends to sense, not to understand sense. If I shall make it plain that in this point you come short, I shall have vindicated the Greek of your authors from your ignorant application of the same, without troubling the reader with any more languages than his mother tongue. You, in pretending to have sound Oceana light, weigh only Sparta, nor that truly.

First, Because the senate of Sparta was instituted by Lycurgus, you argue, That it was not instituted eligible by the people; whereas all authors, particularly Aristotle, lib. 4. cap. 9. affirm, That the magistrates in Sparta were all chosen by the people, as that of senator; or chosen, and also born by the people, as that of ephori.

For the mistakes you lay unto Mr. Harrington in the Greek, as, That the tribes in Lacedemon were pre-existent to the oracle, what maketh that to the purpose? And that the word obæ doth not signify lineages, you will harldly persuade, seeing Amyot, thought to be as good an interpreter of the Greek as Mr. Stubs, in rendring the oracle, hath these words, Aprez que tu auras divisé le peuple en ligniees. But I will not trouble the reader with foreign languages: things indisputable shall hereafter be brought for interpretation of the words you dispute at a dear rate, giving so much Greek for two-pence as you have made not worth an half-penny. Mr. Harrington states the commonwealth of Sparta thus;

Lycurgus instituted a senate eligible by the people for life, with right to debate and propose, and a popular assembly with power to resolve. To which he adds the place in Plutarch. Lycurgus having thus tempered the form of this commonwealth, it seemed nevertheless to them who came after, that the small number of thirty persons (and for life) whereof this senate consisted, was the cause of greater force and authority in the same than was convenient; for which cause to hold in this same senate, they (the people) gave them the senate, (as Plato saith) the curb, which was the power and authority of the ephori, magistrates created about one hundred and thirty years after the death of Lycurgus, in the time of king Theopompus, who to his wife reproaching him in disdain, that he must thus basely leave his kingdom less unto his successors, than he had received of his predecessors; made answer, That he should leave it greater, in regard that it would be more firm and durable.

Hereby it is apparent, when the senate upon these advantages of fewness and for life, began to propose perversely unto the people, then the people began to add, diminish, pervert, and evert what the senate proposed, that is, they began (as in like cases is unavoidable) to debate. And the people thus taking upon them to debate, Polydorus and Theopompus being kings, endeavoured to add unto the fundamental law, that if the people did not determine well, then the senators and the kings should stop the procedure. Hereupon, for the defence of their fundamental laws, the people erected the court of the ephori, consisting of annual magistrates chosen by and out of themselves, and with power to question any of their kings or senators upon their lives, that should go about to pervert those laws. Thus by this patch of the ephori, came that flaw in Sparta (wherewith Mr. Harrington for that reason proposing otherwise, is not concerned) to be amended. And this is the account he gives of that commonwealth, which you, perverting the whole story, go about to weigh otherwise.

1. Inferring that the people were guilty of those miscarriages, which it is plain proceeded from the senate, and were rectified by the people, in the institution of that curb upon the senate (as is plainly shewn by Plutarch) in the institution of the ephori.

2. You infer from you know not what, that the senate had a negative vote, and yet confess that the people had no right to debate. Whereas to leave words or canting, (for your Greek, as you use it, amounts to no more) and come as I said to the undeniable testimony of things or of sense; if the popular assembly had no right to debate, how should the senate have a negative? or if the popular assembly had right to the result only, then who but themselves could have the negative? Contra rationem nemo sobrius, contra experientiam nemo sanus. For that which you alledge out of Demosthenes, as that he calleth the senate of Sparta lords of the people, it can (considering the nature of this commonwealth, which Isocrates to the Areopagites affirms to be popular) be no otherwise understood, than as they who have the like function, I mean of debating and proposing unto the parliament in Scotland, are called lords of the articles. Lord in this sense, as you (in great letters setting a mark upon your ignorance, and not interpreting your text) would imply, doth not signify sovereign, for neither are the lords of the articles sovereign, nor doth Demosthenes affirm that of the senate of Sparta. But where the proposers are few, and for life, as in Lacedemon, and as the greater nobility or officers in Scotland, they may in some sense be called lords of the people, though not they, but the people have the result.


To conclude, Mr. Harrington hath long since shewed, that among the Greeks, the words oligarchy and democracy, were understood in such manner, that where the popular assembly had the result only, there the commonwealth was sometimes called oligarchy, especially if the proposing council consisted of few, and for life, as in Sparta; and where the people had not only the result but debate also, that was called democracy, as in Athens. Hence that an oligarchist in your sense, or one that hath endeavoured to make helots and Gibeonites, or servants of such as are now his lords and masters, is no ideot, there is no consequence, even for what hath happened in our days. Quid verba audio, cum facta videam? &c.