THE BAITING OF THE
GREAT BULL OF BASHAN
Unfolded and Presented to the Affecters and approvers of the PETITION of the 11 Sept. 1648.
Especially, to the Citizens of London usually meeting at the Whale-bone in LOTHBURY behind the Royal Exchange,
Commonly (though unjustly) styled LEVELLERS.
By Richard Overton
Close-prisoner in the Tower of LONDON.
Psal. 22. 12. 13. Psal. 68. 28. 30. Many Bulls have compassed me: strong Bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They opened their mouths against me as a ravening and a roaring Lion. Strengthen O God that which thou hast wrought for us. Rebuke the Company ot Spearmen, the multitude of the Bulls, with the Calves of the people till every one submit. Scatter thou the people that delight in war.
Imprinted at London, 1649.
BEING necessitated (by some over-sudden misdeemings from amongst you) some few days since to assert and avow the continuance of my integrity to those sure foundations of peace and freedom, offered to the people of this Nation under the form or draught of an Agreement of the People, May 1. 1649.
It hath happened with me, as with other adventurers into the public: All palates are not pleased with that Sheet intitled Overton's Defiance etc. yet falleth it out no other wise then I expected; it seems many are weak and as many are offended, and chiefly with that figurative passage of the Bull; especially at the word pox; but they need not much, did they but also take into their thoughts, the adulterous and wicked generation, on whom that metaphor is made good, a people whose heart is waxed gross, and their ears dull of hearing, having closed their eyes, least at any time they should see, hear, understand and be converted.
To such a people Christ spake not but in Parables: why then to such might not I use the Figure of the Bull of Bashan, or rather of the bull-baiting, with all the circumstances Emphasis Gratia thereunto appertaining? But there's uncivil language, such as becometh not the Gospel of Christ. I answer (my Brethren) he or she (how pure or nice soever to the eye) that is not guilty of real gross incivilities both in word and deed, let him or her throw the first stone at that seeming incivility, for at most you can make it but so in appearance, and no like is the same. The figure is but the shell; will you not crack the shell to take out the kernel? pass through the Parable to the Moral thereof? Aye, but it jeers and that's not the language of Canaan; and be it so: Is it not recorded that Elijah mocked the Priests of Baal, and said, Cry aloud for he is god, either he is talking or he is pursuing his Enemy, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be waked.
Sure this was a jeer to some purpose: here Elijah bid them cry aloud etc. and 'tis justified; then why now may I not cry ha-looe-ha-looe, etc. and not be condemned? What if I had turned fiddler in that paper, Christ himself useth the simile of a piper, saying, we have piped unto you and ye have not danced (Mat. II. 17.) And truly I think we (the four poor sea-green fiddlers in the Tower) may take up the same saying, We have piped unto you ever since the first of May, the most pleasant tune of the AGREEMENT of the PEOPLE, but ye have not danced up so roundly as so sprightly a tune deserves. But you will say (it may be) I am still in the language of Ashdod (as perchance you may take it) or that this dialect is of consanguinity with the other: Tis true; things (however in themselves) are to others as they are taken. He that should take the Parable of Dives and Lazarus in the bare letter (how known canonical soever in its own genuine sense) he must explode it the Scriptures and at best give it but a place in the Apocrypha, for the Letter or character thereof (if that must be the sense) is contradictory to the body of divinity, except you will say, to believe that the rich glutton and the beggar left not their eyes, tongues, fingers, etc. in the grave is Orthodox. And so of my metaphor of the bull, the use of the word genitals, pox, etc. you may say is uncivil in the letter, but how uncivil I pray in the moral? Know ye not that whosoever shall but fasten on the genitors or parents of the peoples ruin, so, as to pinch the grand imposters and deluders of the times, he burns his fingers, is smit with the Morbus Gallicus of the enslaving sword; For, what's he, that is precisely honest to the Commonwealth, that can scape persecution? As it hath been of old and is still in things spiritual, He that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution; so he now, that will but faithfully discharge his duty to the public, shall be sure to be cast upon the fiery trial, that dog's mouth (as after the metaphor) shall be sure to be burnt, and tis well he scapes hanging as the time goes.
Now I pray, to how much incivility doth this amount? Is it so worthy your second condemnings as it may not be indulged with a favourable eye? Love envyeth not, it judgeth the best; I had thought with two or three merry jigs to attempt an uproar in all the laughers in England, but I see you are a company of dull souls, mirth with you is like a shoulder of mutton to a sick horse, or worse, you straight convert into melancholy, trample it under your feet, turn again, and are (some of you) ready to rent me; He that had cast Pearls before Swine could have expected no less.
Indeed, you looked (many of you) upon me as in a sound at my close imprisonment; but truly, when I came abroad with that ignorant sheet, it found you in a dead sleep, as men in a trance, portending, as if the champions of the eleventh of September had been sparrow-blasted with the business of Burford: and I essayed, to put you out of your dumps, and mind you of the Agreement of the People as the centre, or ne plus ultra of all our engagements; but it seems it proved but as music to the house of mourning; yet however, it hath so far gained its end; if by it you will not be provoked to your duties equally with us, it hath awaked you into a little discourse pro and con, though it be but to point at my weaker parts, and that's better than nothing, if rightly applied, for ex nihilo nil fit: by this you may take notice of your own infirmities in so wire-drawing of mine: Certainly, it may provoke you to consider of what spirits you are, not unlike such as strain at a gnat and swallow a camel, that usually in any discourse pass over what concerneth themselves, though of never so serious and weighty consideration in point of their duties, and betake themselves wholly to spy out the spots and infirmities thereof, and of the author, and fall foul thereupon, and so sleight their duties, stifle and smother the thing that is good: And now (my tender friends) I pray tell me what spirit is this? 'tis a foul spirit, away with't for shame; go purge, go purge; one pennyworth of the Agreement of the people, with a little good resolution taken morning and evening, will work out this corruption, cleanse and purify the blood, and put a period to this distinction of parties, allay the feud and division of the people, and state us in firm freedom, safety and peace; and then there will be none of this catching and carping, this lying in wait to snap at infirmities; and till the Agreement be settled, this is not to be expected.
I have known, when things as unserious as my last sheet, dressed out in the youthful attire of mirth, hath found a very large acceptance not only with you, but even with this generation of men, that are now the Enemies of the People; and I think if I have not forgot the Arraignment of Persecution, and some other things of that nature, that I myself have been one of those who have had the honour of such acceptances: But O tempora! O Mores! how few are the same yesterday and to-day? success changeth men's minds as the wind doth the weathercock.
But (my friends) your gravity (which I am afraid hath too much of Melancholy in it) cannot more move me to a more serious Dialect, then my own affections incline me, I prize both in their places; as I affect the one, I respect the other: for sure, modest mirth tempered with due gravity makes the best composition, most natural and harmonious: God in the temper of our natures as he hath made us earth, so hath he enlivened that dull lump with the element of fire, which is the forma formans, the giver and preserver of being and motion, and the original of that habit of laughter: Therefore mirth sure is of Divine instinct, and I think I may boldly say, more natural than melancholy, and less savours of the curse. Nature in its creation was pure and good, void of corruption, or anything obnoxious or destructive: all misery and mischiefs came in with the fall, as a curse upon the creature, as death, sorrow, tears, pains, etc, in which number you may reckon melancholy, for 'tis both unnatural and destructive to nature, and so fitly reputed a branch of the Curse, and 'tis the root of the root of all wickedness, covetousness; for where have you seen a melancholy man that's not covetous? and a covetous man seldom proves a good Commonwealth's man: yet this ill weed is gotten into so religious an esteem that all our Religion is turned into Melancholy; that, he that cannot whine, pipe, weep and hang down his head like a Bulrush and seem sad unto men, is profane, light, hath not anything of God in him, is a Reprobate, is condemned and censured of all, as neither fit for Church nor Commonwealth; And thus comes it to pass; my mirth is heightened to such a transgression, even to cast me under the present anathema of the now godly party.
But my Brethren of the Sea green Order, take a little wine with your water, and I'll take a little water with my wine, and it will temper us to the best constitution. I wonder what meaneth your late dullness of motion, appearing as men in a dream, or as if you were another sort of people then the Authors, promoters, approvers and presenters of the Petition of the 11 of Sept. that people use to be the most active and vigorous People in England for public Freedom and safety, they use to fear no colours, the more they were pressed down the more they pressed forward, and the more they increased; few months have passed that they have not in point of Common-Right produced some eminent peace: but your heads have drooped of late, nothing hath appeared, not one punctilio in supportation and promotion of the Agreement; deep silence hath covered you; fie, fie; be not cowed out of your abilities and principles by the present rage of the wicked: compare but the strength of your principles and the strength of an army, and tell me which is stronger: How many persecuting powers have fallen before your principles as Dagon before the Ark? and who hath been able to stand before them, even from Episcopacy to this whited and Jezebel-like painted Independency? Think you, that this unparalleled tyranny, under this new name, more fierce and cruel then his fellows, trampling the residue under its feet, that it shall scape the vengeance of Gods wrath more than its Predecessors? no, no; God's motto is Semper Idem. Be not therefore dismayed or daunted at the height and magnificence of this insolent faction, the new sons of perdition, that are set up to deceive if it were possible the very Elect.
It is your own evil and weaknesses and of those that are professors and pretenders to the same principles with you, that our cause is thus under a cloud: would you all act together, all suffer together, all be as one; and not thus (as some amongst you commonly use) hang back in the adversity, and be seen in the van of prosperity (not daring when the storm rageth, to peep into the tempest for fear of being blown away) we should not be at this pass with our Cause.
Where there is anything of venture or hazard, while 'tis in the embryo, who's not then busy and forward? but when 'tis put upon the personal test for execution, O then one hath bought a piece of ground, and must be excused; another a yoke of oxen, and he must go see them; and a third hath married a wife and therefore must please her.
Friends, be not offended, this is a crime deserves your repentance; I condemn you not all, it is but some few; A little Leaven you know leaveneth the whole Lump; therefore do ye beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, it much retardeth your motions and blasteth their fruits; the public is a loser thereby, and your cause receiveth damage: let those whom this pincheth, be thereby provoked to amendment, it is worthy their care: For know you not, that it is many hands make light work? If the stress or weight of the work be laid upon one, or some 3 or 4, it must needs go on slowly: Why, is not he that's most backward as forward as the best? it is his cause as much as it is any man's, and thereto in duty as much obliged as any. We are no more concerned than yourselves, 'tis but upon the point of common duty (which binds all) to our Country, that we suffer, and we count it our joy, for that we know we suffer for well-doing, and though we perish in the work, our reward shall go with us, for our Redeemer liveth, and that is our stay. Therefore why stand you still, and are not provoked to this good emulation; be as active and vigilant, and you shall share in the rejoicing, and 'tis such (I must tell you my Friends) is worth your having; Dulce est pro patria pati [it is sweet to suffer for one's country].
Fear not those hills and mountains that are in your way; it is but your want of faith that they are not removed, and cast into the bottom of the sea: While you lift up your heads, are vigorous and active, your principles present you as Steeples above the rest of the people; every man is a strong barricado in the way of the Enemy, and your principles flourish and get ground but when you are fearful, are flat or remiss, then they retire and fade; for they are said to increase or diminish, as they get or lose ground in the understanding or acceptance of others: And this ever take as a sure Rule, That the most virtuous and saving principles in a person most undaunted and faithful, the more they are suppressed, and the more he is persecuted, the more they prosper and spread; of so mighty an efficacy are his sufferings and testimony; as, in the case of Paul is witnessed. Now I would (saith he) ye should understand, Brethren, that the things that happened unto me, have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the Gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the Palace, and in all other places, and many of the Brethren the Lord waxed confident by my bonds, are much-more bold to speak the Word without fear: And this is all the persecutor gaineth upon the undaunted asserters of righteousness; his own sword is turned into his own bowels: persecution, as the viper, devoureth its own parent. Then faint ye not (my friends) rouse up your heads and be valiant; lift up your agreement of the people again, and put it upon the public stage for promotion and subscription, and doubt not: What man that there is amongst you, that is fearful and faint-hearted, let him depart your meetings, and return to his house: the more the Enemy stormeth, the more resolute and vigorous be ye; give them enough of persecution; the more they persecute, the more do ye appear, that your bands may be famous; for with fetters, irons, and prison walls you may shake them to pieces; 'tis their tyrannies, cruelties and oppressions must be their fall, through which you must beat your way for the agreement.
I highly honour the fidelity and valour of Mr. Christopher Chisman, who notwithstanding his imprisonment, his abuses and sufferings, hath not wrapped up his talent in a napkin, but like a good and faithful servant hath improved his imprisonment to the public advantage; see his book, entitled, The Lamb Contending with the Lion, 'tis worthy your imitation. Let your light (as his) so shine before men, that they may see your good Works, and glorify your cause; fear no dangers; the high and mighty cedars are never able to overtop your principles; what though ambition hath mounted to the title of Lord Governor (forsooth) hath not your vigorous principles slain both the Lyon and the Bear, and shall not this uncircumcised Philistine be as one of them?
But (my friends) I am informed those painted sepulchres of Independency desire your compliance and treaty with them: But touch pitch, and you shall be defiled, have nothing to do with them; touch not, taste not, handle not, which all are to perish with the using; Remember the fidelity of Uriah to David: The Ark, and Israel, and Judah abide in tents, and my Lord Joab, and the servants of my Lord are encamped in the open fields, shall I then go into my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As thou livest and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing. Your Agreement lieth half dead in the streets, your friends and its assertors are in prison, with sentinels at their doors, denied the access and visitation of friends, have the catch-poles of the Council of State enter their chambers when they are in bed, with musketeers at their heels, search, rifle, catch and take away anything that any way they may wrest unto their bloody ends against them, as formerly, and now, the other day (July 4.) they have done, and all the land mourneth and groaneth at the calamity and miseries upon it for want of the settlement of a just constitution of Government; and shall you go unto them (those pests and vipers of the Nation) to treat or comply? As you live and as your soul liveth you must not do this thing.
While your agreement is trod under their feet, your friends under their cruel captivity, etc. let him that treateth with them amongst you, or with any of their creatures, or keepeth any correspondency with them, be to you as a reprobate, let the mark of Cain be set upon him, that every finger may point at him for a traitor, and a Judas to the people that meeteth him.
If a wife or child be like to be destroyed by fire, water, or thieves, he accounts himself base that dare not venture his own life to save theirs: our cause is of a more transcendent value, and we suffer for it; and can you see it destroyed in us, and we for it, and not be as natural as in a private relation? the lives, liberties, and freedoms of all is contained in it? If your neighbours ox or his ass were in a ditch, it is a shame to pass by and not to help; and behold, here's all in the ditch, then, why venture you not your time, your labours, your moneys, etc. to redeem out all, our cause, the nation, and us in it, and with it.
I confess no people in England have been more vigorous, more active and diligent, and more adventurous for the Cause of the Nation, and for our Liberties than most of you: we have been as precious to you as the apple of your eye; you have spared no hazard, no toil or time to get us at freedom, and I hope we shall never be so ungrateful as not thankfully to remember that service of Love: To you we are obliged in the deepest obligations of any others in England.
But now considering the extreme necessity of your still constant unwearied prosecution, I have emboldened myself to press you forward to the good work of the people, that at this time you may be as vigilant and industrious as at any other, that public life and spirit may still be preserved and increased in our cause, even in these worst of times.
And if I have been a little too sharp in my advice, and admonishment, impute it I pray you to the heat of my zeal and ardent affections to the promotion of that Cause; for truly to me it is as the life of my life; without it I'm nothing, with it I live, and therein am
Yours and every man's as my own
From my close imprisonment in the tower of London
July the ninth, 1649.