Englands Lamentable Slaverie.

WALWYN William (1645.)

£5000.00  [First Edition]

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proceeding from the arbitrarie will, severitie, and injustnes of kings, negligence, corruption, and unfaithfulnesse of parliaments, coveteousnesse, ambition. and variablenesse of priests, and simplicitie, carelesnesse, and cowardlinesse of people…


First Edition. Small 4to (179 x 130mm). 8pp., drop-head title. A little grubby in places but otherwise fine. Disbound from a larger pamphlet volume with the old pagination in the upper fore-corner of each leaf. Modern brown morocco-backed cloth boards, spine lettered in gilt.  


[London: by Thomas Paine for Richard Overton, 

Rare. Wing W681C. ESTC lists seven copies in the UK and three in the US – Huntington (Bridgewater copy), Union Theological Seminary (lacking final two leaves), and Yale. Although ESTC lists one of the seven UK copies as being held in the V&A’s National Art Gallery, the corresponding catalogue entry states that this is in fact an electronic copy. Only a single copy recorded on Rare Book Hub in a pamphlet volume offered by Scribner in 1963


[Bound with]:


 LILBURNE (John). A copie of a letter, written by Iohn Lilburne Leut. Collonell. To Mr. William Prinne Esq…in which he laies down five propositions, which he desires to discuss with the said Mr. Prinne.


First Edition, ?Second Issue. Small 4to. 7, [1] pp., drop-head title. Lightly browned and a little dusty in places, some old ink underlining throughout the text, old pagination from an earlier tract volume. [London, 1645]


Very Rare. Wing L2092. ESTC lists two separate editions in 1645, distinguished by the spelling of the author’s name (Iohn/John) on the drop-head title. This (Iohn) edition is considerably rarer. ESTC lists Bodley and Durham in the UK; and Huntington only in the USA; the copy at Union Theological Seminary is a photostat.


Two rare and important connected pamphlets: "The first Libertarian", John Lilburne’s provocative argument for freedom of conscience and his attack on William Prynne and William Walwyn’s “striking” and impassioned defence of the recently imprisoned fellow radical, John Lilburne in which Walwyn argues for the recognition of individual liberties.  Part of a “well-orchestrated and concerted propaganda campaign” in the autumn of 1645. 


Englands Lamentable Slaverie is a typographically crude pamphlet containing a letter to the radical pamphleteer, John Lilburne (c.1615-1657). by “a true Lover of his countrey and a faithfull friend” – identified as William Walwyn (1600-1681). In mid-1645, Lilburne was being held in Newgate Prison awaiting trial on charges of slandering the speaker of the House of Commons. England’s Lamentable Slaverie is Walwyn’s defence and analysis of Lilburne’s conflict with Parliament at the end of the first English Civil War. Lilburne, on being questioned by the Committee of Examinations (a wartime Parliamentary committee with a broad and vaguely defined judicial remit), had invoked Magna Carta’s precedent against arbitrary imprisonment to undermine the Committee’s authority over him.


As Walwyn writes: ‘It should seeme, that you being questioned by the Committee of Examinations, stood upon your old guard, alledging it to be against your liberty, as you were a free borne Englishman, to answer to questions against your selfe, urging MAGNA CHARTA to justifie your so doing; And complaining that contrary to the said Charter, you had beene divers times imprisoned by them’. 


The most striking section of the tract concerns Walwyn’s criticism of this opposition for being, if anything, too conservative: admonishing Lilburne’s reliance on the principles of Magna Carta, and urging him to understand it as a minimum, not a culmination – and, indeed, as an instrument of diversion and oppression: "when so choice a people, (as one would thinke Parliaments could not faile to be) shall insist upon such inferiour things, neglecting greater matters, and be so unskilfull in the nature of common and just freedom, as to call bondage libertie, and the grants of Conquerours their Birth-rights, no marvaile such a people make so little use of the greatest advantages; and when they might have made a newer and better Charter, have fallen to patching the old."


The principles for which (as Walwyn sees it) Parliament began the war are in danger of being undermined: ‘This Parliament was preserved and established, by the love and affections of the people, because they found themselves in great bondage and thraldome both spirituall and temporall…the oppression for Conscience, having been the greatest oppression that ever lay upon religious people, and therefore except that be removed, the people have small ease by removall of the Bishops, but rather will be in greater bondage, if more and worse spirituall taskmasters be set over us. These were no small matters also, their abolishing the High-Commission, and Starre Chamber for oppressing the people, by imposing the Oath Ex Officio, and by imprisoning of men, contrary to law, equitie, and justice. But if the people be not totally freed from oppression of the same nature, they have a very small benefit of the taking downe of those oppressing Courts.’


Lilburne’s conflict thus illustrates the far deeper principle that when the strictures of parliament, or any other contemporary institution, challenge ‘reason, sense, and the common Law of equitie and justice...no authority in the world can overrule without palpable sinne’. The ’greatest safety’ against such sin(ne), by contrast, ’will be found in open and universall justice’.


The pamphlet concludes with an “incendiary epistle from the printer” (Como p.370) to the reader which outlines a slightly different summary of Walwyn’s argument: a summary which has been termed :an exceedingly radical diagnosis of the English political order…as a system of organised enslavement"(Como p.368): ‘the States and Clergie of this Kingdome have pittifully abused the people, even our ancient predicestors for many ages, both in Church and Common wealth. First, In bringing them with a high hand, under heavie thraldome and great bondage, and then keeping them in lamentable slaverie for many hundreds of yeares, as still their Successors the States men and Clergie of our dayes, doe’.


Como argues that Walwyn’s tract thus outlines ‘a radical, indeed innovative, argument against arbitrary imprisonment’ (Como 2006, 367) and the influence of such tracts has been traced far beyond their immediate context: “The pamphlets and petitions of John Lilburne, Richard Overton, William Walwyn, and a few others of the 1600’s were among the numerous political and revolutionary writings known to George Mason. Those writings were based on the experience of Englishmen. The Virginia Declaration of Rights and hence the Federal Bill of Rights harken back to the anonymous writings of those men” (American Bar Association Journal, June 1956).


Como has described Walwyn as “perhaps the most original and effective of the Leveller propagandists” but notes that because most of Walwyn’s published work was anonymous and illegal it has been very difficult for scholars to determine an accurate list of his writings. Indeed, Como’s recent work has led to a re-evaluation of this particular tract’s publication history. Although the tract was issued without imprint, scholars have generally concluded that Walwyn himself caused the work to be printed at the presses of Thomas Paine. Typographical evidence sustains the identification of Paine as the printer: the text’s distinctive Roman Pica typeface recurs on many of the tracts issued by Paine during the 1640s, while the cracked, decorative ‘A’ on the first page appears identical to that used by the printer from whom Paine inherited many of his tools and materials (Como 2006, 372). Evidence of Paine’s presswork is, incidentally, apparent in the slanted setting of the text itself, and in the mis-placing of individual text blocks (see, for instance, the inverted ’v’ on the verso of C1).


Como suggests that Paine’s presses were actually operating at the behest of Richard Overton, Walwyn’s fellow radical, as a commercial publishing interest. Como and Blayney note that postscripts from ‘The Printer’ typically came from a work’s publisher – i.e. not from Paine – and, consequently, it is interesting to observe that this tract’s postscript prompts the reader to "read a late Printed Booke intituled, Englands birthright justified". This work, which is known to have been produced by Overton, was dated by Thomason to the 10th of October 1645 – that is, one day before Slaverie was issued. Given that one day is certainly not enough time for references to Birthright to be added from scratch to the latter work, the publisher of Slaverie must have been both intimately involved with, and eager to advertise, the illegal and highly secret production of Birthright (Como 2006, 368; Adams 2010, 64-65). While this does not necessarily rule Walwyn out, it does nonetheless leave Overton as the more obvious candidate.


Lilburne, who had been confined to Newgate since the 11th of August, was released without trial on the 14th of October , three days after Overton and Paine issued Walwyn’s defence. From 1646 onwards, Walwyn would collaborate with Lilburne and Overton to organise what would come to be known as the Leveller movement – in which Slaverie’s defence of inalienable individual rights was expanded to a broader platform of popular sovereignty and comprehensive equality before the law. “From this point on, it would appear, Walwyn devoted his very special talents to Lilburn’s cause, each man serving as a foil to the other. Lilburn’s gift was for taking the center of the stage and focusing attention upon himself as representative and spokesman for his audience. Walwyn’s preference was to stay behind the scenes, direct the play, writes the lines, and prompt the actors” (William Haller, Liberty and reformation in the Puritan Revolution (1955) p.282-3).


In March 1649, the new Commonwealth arrested the ringleaders of the Leveller movement – including Lilburne and Walwyn. By the time they were released in November, Walwyn’s radical energies appear to have dissipated entirely. On leaving the Tower, he affirmed his loyalty to the Commonwealth, and never again challenged the prevailing political order that Slaverie had so passionately critiqued.  


A copie of a letter, written by Iohn Lilburne:


Lilburne's pamphlet takes the form of an extraordinary letter written to William Prynne. In this letter, Lilburne challenges Prynne to a debate: setting out five propositions ‘upon which I will dispute with you, hand to hand before any Auditory in and about the City of London when and where you will chuse’. By so doing, Lilburne advocates a near-total freedom of religious conscience, entirely uncurbed by press censorship or centrally-imposed orthodoxy.


Prynne was part of a group of Presbyterian dissenters with whom Lilburne had cooperated as a pamphleteer in the late 1630s. By the time of this tract (which is internally dated to the 7th of January 1645), however, the Presbyterians’ advocacy of a centralised church hierarchy had become unacceptable to Lilburne’s passionate belief in the autonomy of individual religious practice.


This conviction is best typified by Lilburne’s concluding statements: ‘I am not against the Parliaments setting up a State-Government for such a Church as they shall thinke fit, to make the generality of the Land members of, for I for my part leave them to themselves, to doe what they shall thinke good, so that they leave my Consciene free to the Law and Will of my Lord and King.’ (p.7). In other words, no church established and governed by Parliament could legitimately impose a religious conviction on Lilburne as a worshipper if such a conviction would run contrary to his individual conscience.


Lilburne’s characteristically abrasive and tempestuous style becomes quite extraordinarily vicious when directed at Prynne: ‘Truly, had I not seen your name to your Bookes, I should rather have judged them a Papists or a Jesuites then Mr. Prinnes, and without doubt the Pope when he sees them will Cannonize you for a Saint…without all doubt, all is not gold that glisters; for were you not a man, that had more then truth to looke after, namely your owne ends and particular interest, which I am afraid you strive more to set up then a publike good’ (p.6). Prynne would, however, respond in kind, labelling Lilburne’s ‘Libellous, seditious Letter to a Friend, with that unto my selfe, fitter to be refuted by the hangman hand than any others’.


Prinne’s response, in which he complains that the tract had received three ‘impressions’, illustrates its contemporary popularity. As above, two of these impressions have been identified. Although the ‘John’ edition of the Copie has been firmly attributed by Adams to Richard Overton’s press on the basis of typographical and documentary evidence, it is equally clear from this same evidence that the ‘Iohn’ edition did not come from Overton – or, at least, not from his own press. Adams suggests that this second edition from another press was nonetheless financed by Overton after his own printing operation was disrupted by investigations by the Stationer’s Company – presumably to capitalise on the popularity suggested by Prinne (Adams 2010, 71).


This particular tract sparked off a pamphlet war in its own right. The Copie’s accusations incensed Prynne, who sought official retribution against his former supporter. Following the publication, Prynne charged Lilburne before the Committee of Examinations (a wartime parliamentary committee with a broad and vaguely-defined judicial remit) with illegally printing the Copie (ODNB). These charges were subsequently dropped, though not through any contrition from Lilburne – indeed, some months later [SC1] he published his statement to the Committee, acknowledging and defending ‘The reasons of Lieu Col: Lilbournes sending his letter to Mr. Prin…’. Rather, the explanation seems to have been that Lilburne still enjoyed influential support in Parliament at this stage, including from Cromwell.  [SC1]Thomason dates this tract to the 13th of June


Undeterred, Prynne subsequently charged Lilburne in late Spring with the authorship of another raft of radical pamphlets. These charges were again dismissed, but Lilburne would be more successfully targeted by Prynne’s fellow Presbyterians on the very same day, under the (apparently true) charge that he had slandered the speaker of the House of Commons. The Committee remanded him in Newgate Prison from July to October – an imprisonment which elicited the second pamphlet collected in this volume.

Stock Code: 248196

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