AN APOLOGY FOR YOUNGER BROTHERS.
By the Author of A Plea for a Common Wealth. Printed in the Year 1659.
IT hath been a long received custom in this land, or at least, of as ancient date as the Norman monar∣chy, that notwithstanding the elder son obtains the whole inheritance, yet to bestow a generous and li∣beral education on the younger, in which, consider∣ing the circumstances of those times, together with the complexion of their government, I find no cause wherefore to accuse our ancestors, of either impru∣dence or injustice.
For first, the levelling of estates hath always (and that justly enough) been accounted altogether un∣suitable to the majesty and gaudy splendor of monar∣chi•l government, which hath sometimes, though fals•ly been supposed, not only the most absolute and perfect form, but that which by long experience hath been found most suitable to the genius or humour of the English people, the interest of which government is rather to have large public revenues, with a vast stock of preferments, wherewith to gratify the am∣bition of the more ingenious part of the gentry, who have nothing to rely on save what they can purchase in the favour of their prince. Nor was antiquity herein deceived; for when the greatest part of the nation, by this means, reap their chief subsistence from the public revenues of the Commonwealth, and favour of the prince, in whose sole dispose they are, and on whom for this cause, they look upon as their common father; and indeed to whom they have greater obli∣gations than to their own parents; there appears lit∣tle probability how the pillars of such a government should be easily shaken, whose basis is founded on the interest of so great a part of the nation, to defend it with the utmost peril of their lives and blood. Nor have we more reason to accuse our ancestors of im∣piety Page 153or injustice, than imprudence, since heretofore so great and ample were the public revenues, that a younger son could, either in church or state, by the wings of his own industry or merits, have raised him∣self to as high a pitch of honour and fairer fortunes, than those of his elder brother's birth-right; so that to be the first-born was scarce a privilege, except to such as wanted worth to advance them; wherefore, while the Church and Court were open with their large train of preferments, to entertain the more in∣genious of the gentry's younger sons, and monasteries to entomb those of a less mercurial genius, there was little reason for commencing this complaint; for this I am compelled by the violence of truth to confess, in defence of the ancient constitution of the laws and government of this nation, that whatever their other faults, they were not injurious to younger brethren, till after the sale of church-lands, and the abrogating those many preferments that were their former inhe∣ritance.
This was the former state of the nation, in which, if younger sons were debarred a share in their fathers inheritance, they might receive an ample compensa∣tion from the Church their mother, whose jointure was no less than two thirds of the whole land; so that they might seem rather owned as the only children of the Commonwealth, and honourably maintained at the public charge thereof, than disinherited by the unkindness of the laws. A generous education was then a sufficient portion, which is now, for want of a suitable employment, become a curse instead of a blessing, serving to no other end, than to discover, if not augment their misery; so much is the scene of things changed since Henry VIII. spoiled the church of her revenues, and by consequence these of the fairest part of their inheritance; and yet nothing of the rigour of the ancient laws are herein abated to∣wards them. It is not my intention (God knows my heart) to speak a word in approbation of those super∣stitious Page 154uses to which any abbey or bishops lands were heretofore employed, but with reflection on those good and pious, to which (in the opinion of some) they might have been converted.
Nor is it the design of these discourses to retrieve ecclesiastical promotions, or demonstrate a necessity of rebuilding the things we have so lately destroyed; but rather to shew, how unsafe and injurious it would be to establish and fix a Commonwealth upon the ruins and tottering foundation of a decayed monarchy: nor do I blame the prudence of our late reformers, that unhorseing the pride of the clergy, and putting down the hierarchy, they rather sold, than reserved in a public stock, the revenues of the church, by reason it may seem more safe for a Commonwealth to keep nothing that may encourage an invasion of its liberty, or become the reward of usurpation and tyranny, only I could wish, that since the reason and circum∣stances of our laws are quite altered, we might not still build on old foundations, and entail the whole land on a few proprietors or elder brethren, to the exclusion and utter ruin of the greatest part of the nation, and contrary to the interest of a free state or Commonwealth. I dare not charge all our late changes and many turnings in the balance of affairs on this account, though I cannot but observe, that our times have rung more changes, been tuned to more different instruments, and ran through more se∣veral forms of government, than were from the times of the Norman Conquest known before, to which how much the discontent and poverty of our gentry may have contributed, I know not; but Solomon saith, Oppression will make a wise man mad. I am sure the Younger Brothers are by far the greater number; and through nature's courtesy, commonly as rich in intellectual endowments, as poor in fortunes, and be∣ing by the tyranny (as affairs now stand) of Law and Custom, debarred sharing in their parents estates, to which they conceive nature equally entitles them with Page 155their Elder Brethren; it is no wonder if they desire to interrupt the peace and tranquillity of the Commonwealth, since by the shakings thereof, they may probably root themselves in fairer fortunes, than from its peace and settlement, they may with reason expect; and that which arms their discontent with fit weapons for re∣venge, and renders them more formidable, is their generous education; for certainly, it is of very un∣safe and dangerous consequence, to qualify such for great and noble undertakings, that are heirs to no other fortunes than what their valours can purchase with the ruin of the Commonwealth's peace and go∣vernment. Therefore, had those that made the pub∣lic revenues a prey to their ambition, also drunk up those streams of bounty, by which the schools and universities are fed and maintained, and so taken away the means as well as the encouragement of li∣beral education, they had better consulted the peace, though not the honour of the nation; for so long as these are open (if not better ordered), I doubt there will be vipers hatched to eat through the womb of government, by which they conceive themselves in∣jured and debarred, both that which nature gives them title to of their parents, and the ancient constitution of the Commonwealth in public revenues, which I would not have understood as proceeding from any prejudice or ill will to the universities, which I much honour, and in which, with thankfulness I acknow∣ledge, to have received my education, but only to discover the shortness of that policy, that taking away the preferments, should reward and crown all acade∣mic endeavours, yet never reduced the means whereby men are qualified for an expectation, and prompted to an ambition of them; and, indeed, of a like strain is most of our modern policy, not skin deep, and ra∣ther to be accounted shifts and present evasions of impendent evils, than antidotes of solid prudence, for either the obviating, or healing any disaster or ma∣lady in the body politic.
Page 156Certainly, a generous education is not proper for such as are intended for little less than slaves. It is ignorance is the mother of obedience, whereas know∣ledge makes men proud and factious, especially when they conceive their fortunes and e•ployments are not correspondent to the grandeur of their birth and edu∣cation.
The younger son is apt to think himself sprung from as noble a stock, from the loins of as good a gentleman as his elder brother, and therefore cannot but wonder, why fortune and the law should make so great a difference between them that lay in the same womb, that are formed of the same lump; why law or custom should deny them an estate, whom nature hath given discretion to know how to manage it.
Learning ennobles and elevates the soul, causing it to despise and set light by small and base things; and therefore, where that flourishes, men are not easily taught to submit their necks to an iron yoke of slavery; which prompts the Turkish prudence to ex∣tinguish all such lights by which men gain a prospect or discovery of the thraldom and misery of their condition. It would drink more ink, and waste more time than I, or perhaps the reader, would willingly bestow, to give an account of all the mischiefs and inconveniences that proceed from the fertile womb of this single mistake, that a generous education (not∣withstanding the abolition of all encouragements of learning and ingenious preferments) is a sufficient por∣tion for a Younger Brother. Wisdom is good with an inheritance, but the wisdom of the poor man is despised. The muses without a dowry are but des∣picable virgins, and the unnatural, though usual di∣vorce, that is at this day found between wit and mo∣ney, renders both useless, if not pernicious to the Commonwealth. I doubt not, but should we take a view of things through the prospective of some men's observations, we should discover this in part the cause of that tranquillity and settlement, peace and Page 157prosperity, with which in former times this British Isle was crowned; as also of those many shakings and convulsions in which these latter ages have seen her cast into: and can we expect it should be otherwise? when (as Solomon hath observed) There is not bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor yet fa∣vour to men of skill, &c. which seems to proceed from no other cause than the iniquity of our laws, pouring all the wealth into one channel, and conveying the whole land into the hands of a few Proprietors or elder Brethren.
I confess, those providence hath placed on high, on the battlements of supreme power, may, if their eyes are open, and not blinded by private interest, com∣mand a fairer prospect, and discern farther into these things, then such whom a meaner fortune hath left in the valley of a low and private condition; therefore, I shall not presume to inform those intelligences that turn about the orbs of government; only could wish, there were such a scene of things brought forth, as may give encouragement to expect a settlement, with∣out a miracle.
To which, as things now stand, I cannot persuade myself, but that the establishing of gavel kind, would have no small tendency; for can any thing be done more suitable to a Commonwealth? or is there any thing more just and equitable, than that all the chil∣dren should share in their Parents inheritances? or in∣deed is there not rather an absolute necessity thereof, since all the former avenues by which men had ac∣cess to preferment are hedged up? is not the only door at present open to a fortune, that of the law? which is also now, together with all other professions, so overstocked with students, and thereby become so burdensome, that the Nation will no longer endure it. For are they not necessitated to devise daily new quirks and subtleties, whereby suits may be multi∣plied, to the confusion of estates, and oppression of the people. How much more honourable would it be Page 158to our reformation, and new established government, that there were a more equal and righteous distri∣bution of the things of this earth, than that the greater part of the nation should be put to shift and scramble for a livelihood, or be necessitated to live on the sins of the people.
Why estates may not, for the future, descend regu∣larly to the whole offspring that are of the same blood and family, instead of one branch thereof, I know no inconvenience in that, especially in those circumstances we are in at present, being fallen into an age so eagle-eyed and quick-sighted, as to discern spots on the sun, and discover corruption in the hea∣vens; which the duller opticks of antiquity judged im∣maculate, and as altogether incorruptible: an age that dares pry into the pious frauds, and unmask the most religious deceits, which the devouter ignorance of our ancestors never beheld, but at a superstitious and reverential distance; an age, in which the art of living, or to gain and honest subsistance, is grown so subtle, so difficult and abstruse a mystery, that few are able to master it.
How many ingenious gentlemen, that are now clothed with rags and misery, might have raised them∣selves to fair estates, had they had a stock wherewith to set their industry on work; for can any man make brick wherewith to build themselves a fortune with∣out any straw? How many might this have reprieved from an untimely death, who might have been useful to their country, and ornaments to the Common∣wealth, had their parts and ingenuities found due en∣couragements? How many brave sparkling wits, that might have proved bright stars and shining lamps both in Church and Commonwealth, have been ex∣tinguished in obscurity, for want of maintenance, the oil whereby their lamps should have been fed and nourished.
Were it not far more just to restrain marriage, or at least give check, and set bounds to the lust of parents, Page 159by stinting the number of their offspring to a child or two, and sealing up the fertile womb, than thus turn that blessing of god, increase and multiply, into the greatest curse, and visit the iniquity of the parents upon the children? Or, were it not a greater act of charity, according to the example of the Heathen, to expose or drown these latter births, as we do such supernume∣rary dogs &c. as would otherwise over-stock our com∣mons, than thus expose them like so many little •••s•ses in arks of bulrushes to a sea of poverty and •••sery, from whence they many never expect reprieve, unless some miraculous providence (like Pharo's ••••ghters) chance to rescue and receive them into her court and favour? Our law making no more pro∣vision for Younger Brethren than if they were to be cloathed like the lillies of the field, or like Elias, to expect their food from ravens, receiving no other comfort from the hands of men, than what they can suck from the dry breasts of an old proverb, that God will send meat wheresoever he hath provided mouths, than which nothing more true, did not the covetous∣ness of men withhold it.
It was the custom of our gentry and nobility to clap such of their phlegmatic offspring, as nature had not made mercurial enough to ambiate either church or court preferments into some religious habit; and so keep up the splendour of their families, by prun∣ing away such under-branches for the service of the alter, as either, through their number or folly were like to let in poverty, and thereby become a dispa∣r•gement to the noble stock from whence they sprang, which hath prompted some to an opinion, that if in these more populous northern climates, a kind of Pro∣testant monasteries were erected for encouragement of chastity and single life, especially among the poorer sort, it would (pardoning the solecism of the name) be more consonant to the maxims of state and true po∣lley, than in those hotter and more barren climates, where there is so little danger of being over-stocked Page 160or burdened with people, that on the contrary they want men for the necessary defence of their territories; of which we have a pertinent instance in Spain, whose religious houses (did not their blind devotion so much triumph over their policy) had long since been buried under their own ruins; for there can no other account be given, why that wise and prudent nation labouring under so great a weight of affairs, and scarcity of men, to manage their wars, should tolerate so many hives of drones; which so long as they shall continue, may give good caution and security to its neighbouring states and princes, to lay asleep their fears and jea∣lousies of his ever attaining that universal monarchy, at which, for so many centuries, the lips of his proud ambition have been thought to water: there being little probability that his palsey hands should grasp the universe, that hath not strength enough to hold that little part thereof he hath already fastened on; and therefore the Spanish conquests may not unfitly be compared to those of rivers upon the banks of their channels, losing as much in one place as they gain in others?
But since Providence hath been pleased in mercy to bring back our captivity, and again to cast us into the advantagious form of a Commonwealth, if gavel-kind were once established, we shall stand in need of no other devices for keeping out of poverty, than the setting industry on work according to the opportu∣nities, plentiful occasions will administer in an equal Commonwealth. But I shall now return to the lawyers, from whom I have made so long a digres∣sion. I have read, that in the more pure and less so∣phisticated times of our ancestors, great estates have been passed in few words, and the conveyance proved more firm and good, than those tedious, prolix, tau∣tological instruments, the knavery of latter ages hath introduced.
The professors of which mystery of iniquity that live upon the sins of the people, are of late grown so numerous, that like locusts, or an Egyptian plague, they cover the face of our land, and are thriven to such vast estates, that whereas heretofore the Church and Clergy being in possession of two thirds, of the best lands throughout the realm, gave birth to the sta∣tute of Mortmain for security of the rest: we may justly fear, unless some prudent care be taken for pre∣vention of their future purchases, lest this pack, &c. by their quirks, &c. instate themselves in our in∣heritances, and ingross the wealth and revenues of the whole nation unto themselves, &c.
I have heard this subtle generation were not in so fair a plight, when every term they beat upon the hoof to London, with their satchels on their backs, and at the towns end proffered their services, like water∣man at the Thames side, to be retained by the coun∣try clients; and I know not whether we may ever ex∣pect a golden age, or to see good days, till the interest of this corrupt generation be laid as low as any his∣tories can produce a precedent; which at this time must needs have the greatest countenance of justice that can be, they having been so notoriously instru∣mental in betraying our liberties; and selling us into the hands of tyranny, by which, together with their other iniquities, they have contracted so great an odium in the hearts and eyes of all honest men, that I Know not whether the hanging up of their gowns in Westminster Hall might not be as acceptable a tro∣phy in the eyes of the people, as the Scotch colours.
I have often wondered, that notwithstanding the grace mischief the nation hath suffered by the lawyers •••ning our laws and acts of parliaments, being known Page 162to leave flaws, and always render them so lame, they can, for their advantage, wrest them to what sense they please, and thereby make themselves the lords and absolute arbitrators both of our lives and fortunes; that for prevention of like future abuses they are not excluded the House of Commons as well as the Clergy, there being as much reason and more precedent for the one than the other, for that the Judges never had a vote in the House of Peers, but only sat upon the Wool-pack, whereas the Bishops had like privileges with the other Lords. It being very incongruous in reason that they should be the makers of our laws who are the mercenary Interpreters, lest biassed by their own interests, instead of fences to our properties, they make them snares to our lives and estates.
But it is hoped, the prudence of our Senators will make so thorough a reformation of the Laws, that as they are the birth-right and inheritance of every En∣glishman, and the interest of all persons to know and be intimately acquainted with them, so they shall be rendered so facil and easy, that the meanest capacity may conceive them, at least so far as he is concerned therein; that so there may be no longer any occasion of keeping up so corrupt an interest of men to make justice mercenary, who have been always found the panders of tyranny, and betrayers of our liberties; and that for the future, every man may be permitted to be his own orator and plead his own cause, or pro∣cure what friend they please to be their advocates; that right may be done gratis to every man, and the cry of the oppressed may no longer be heard in our gates; But that judgment may run down like a stream, and righteousness like a mighty torrent in the midst of our streets.
I shall conclude with that honest desire of the inha∣bitants of Hull, of late presented to the Parliament; That the laws by which this Commonwealth is to be go∣verned may be those holy, just and righteous laws of the great and wise God, our rightful lawgiver; and where Page 163any case is unprovided for in the express terms of his word, care may be taken to determine it, with the most exact proportion that is possible thereto, that so our laws being founded on the Scriptures, and so composed, as not only to have great affinity with, but also to bor∣der on the very suburbs of divinity, the greater re∣verence and authority may be conciliated to each; and it may seem the less incongruous for our civil magistrates to be utrisque peritus, skilful in both.
Now whatsoever hath been here spoken out of a most intensely heated zeal for public good, with re∣flection on the abuses of the law, and the professors thereof, I would not have misconstrued to reflect upon their persons, which I honour, and acknowledge many of them to be men of great candour and integrity, but rather of the corrupt interest of the profession, it being the design of these discourses to witness only against interests, and not to revile or asperse the per∣sons of any whatsoever, &c.
And, indeed, to speak my mind freely, the grand error in the reformation of these times hath been its weeding out of persons, when as the blow should have been levelled against the interests, which notwith∣standing the frequent change of persons, still take root, and spring up in as great vigour as before; and therefore I humbly conceive, till the ax be laid to the root of every evil and corrupt interest, we may not expect to reap any great fruit or success by our re∣formation, for all flesh is corruptible, and every man a lie; nor is he that marches in the rear any better able to resist the temptation, or avoid the snares of his place than he that fell before him.