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How highly the writings of wise and good men concerning government have been esteemed in all ages, the testimony of history, and the preservation of so many books composed by the ancients on that subject, do sufficiently manifest. And it may be truly said, that unless men have utterly abandoned themselves to all that is detestable, they have seldom attempted to detract from the worth of the assertors of liberty, though ambition and other passions have influenced them to act in opposition to it. When Augustus had surprised a young Roman, who was related to him, reading a political discourse of Cicero, he commended his judgment in that choice. The history of France, written by the president De Thou, with a spirit of freedom that might have been worthy of those who had lived before the violation of
• By John TOLAND. Besides the “Discourses concerning Government,” he also collected, and first published, Milton's prose-works; and Harrington's works....some of them from the original manuscripts. VOL. I.
their liberty, has been so generally valued by men of all ranks in that nation, that it is hard to find a book on any important subject, which has had so many editions. And the just esteem, that the emperor Charles the Fifth, made of the memoirs of Philip de Commines, though that author has given so many instances of his detestation of tyranny, may be enough to put this matter out of dispute. But, if all other proof were wanting, this implacable hatred and unwearied industry of the worst of men to suppress such writings, would abundantly testify their excellency.
That nations should be well informed of their rights, is of the most absolute necessity; because the happiness or infelicity of any people entirely depends upon the enjoyment or deprivation of liberty; which is so invincibly proved in the following discourses, that to endeavour to make it more clear, would be an unpardonable presumption.
If any man think the publication of this work to be unseasonable at this time, he is desired to consi. der, that as men expect good laws only from good government, so the reign of a prince, whose title is founded upon the principle of liberty which is here defended, cannot but be the most proper, if not the only time to inform the people of their just rights; that from a due sense of their inestimable value, they may be encouraged to assert them against the attempts of ill men in time to come.
It is not necessary to say any thing concerning the person of the author. He was so well known in the world, so universally esteemed by those who know how to set a just value upon true merit, and will appear so admirable in the following discourses, as not to stand in need of a flattering panegyric.... But it may not be amiss to say something of the discourses now published.
The paper delivered to the sheriffs immediately before his death, informs us, that he had left a large and a lesser treatise, written against the principles contained in Filmer's book; and that a small part of the lesser treatise had been produced for evidence against him at his trial. It is there also said, that the lesser treatise neither was, nor probably ever should have been finished. This therefore is the large work mentioned in that paper, and not the lesser, upon part of which the wicked sentence pronounced and executed against him was grounded.
It remains only to add a few words for the gatisfaction of the public, that these discourses are genu
ine. And here I shall not need to say, that they were put into the hands of a person of eminent quality and integrity, by the author himself; and that the original is, in the judgment of those who knew him best, all written by his own hand: his inimitable manner of treating this noble subject, is instead of a thousand demonstrations, that the work can belong to no other than the great man whose name it bears.
Life and Memoirs
Though there is nothing more useful and entertaining than the lives of great and excellent men, yet it often happens, that through the neglect of their friends and contemporaries, proper materials are wanting; and thus it is in the present case.
One cannot but wonder, that the life of our author, who was a man of such excellent abilities, such a lover of liberty, and who died for the glorious cause, was never attempted by any of his intimate friends, and such as were acquainted with the most remarkable passages concerning him. To retrieve this error as much as we can, we shall lay together in one view what can now be gathered from various authors, who occasionally mention the name and actions of Colonel Sydney: and it is to be hoped, that this short account, though very imperfect, may do some justice to the memory of that noble person, and give some instruction to the reader.