Note: This is part of the Leveller Collection of Tracts and Pamphlets.
T.202 [1649.07.02] Richard Overton, Overton's Defyance of the Act of Pardon (2 July 1649).
Richard Overton, Overton's Defyance of the Act of Pardon: Or, The Copy of a Letter to the Citizens usually meeting at the Whale-Bone in Lothbury behinde the Royal Exchange; And others commonly (though unjustly) styled Levellers. Written by Richard Overton Close prisoner in the Tower of London.
Matth. 16. 24, 25. Then said Jesus unto his Disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his crosse and follow me.
For whoever will save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, shall finde it.
Imprinted at London 1649.
2 July 1649.
TT1, p. 754; Thomason E. 562. (26.)
(Placeholder: Text will be added later.)
I Understand, that at the silence of my pen since my close imprisonment many have wondered, & some even amongst you (though tacitely) been ready to draw my integrity into suspicion, but could such as wel unfold the riddle of my silence, as in other things, judge of what is visible and obvious to the eye, their thoughts sure would be far from such jealous surmises of me, neither would they (I suppose) so much as tax me of imprudence or negligence in the matter, though my silence indeed had been as deep as is suspected, and let it be so taken for granted, and also taken in the worst sence, I care not much how I am judged; yet I must needs confess, it is no pleasure unto me, to be misjudged, or condemned before my time, when my deeds are apostate or contradictory to what I have begun in behalf of the publick, then is the time of my condemnation, and before that my patient endurance in bonds (one would think) were a guard sufficient against misconceptions in that kind, especially with my friends.
But knowing, that even the suspicion of any one of us four; yea, though in the unworthyest, My Selfe, is an arrow of so pearcing a kind, that it even woundeth through the sides of that person-the righteous cause of the people which never more needed indulgence, watchfulness, and help then now, it being (by perfidious usurpers and hypocrites, now clothed as Angels of light with the radiant beames of Majesty and Saintship, that no English mortal is able to peep into their glory and live) become like the man that travelled from Jerusalem to Jerico, and fell among thiefs, stript of his raiment (an Agreement of the people, and its faithful Asserters) wounded and beaten, deserted and left half (if not altogether) dead, spurned, trampled and trod under foot, and the Priest and the Levite, and (which is most to my grief and confusion of face) my very brethren the Church-men pass by on the other side, yea, and which is worse, are not ashamed with their invenomed invectives, lyes, calumnies, and bitter persecutions, (and yet all forsooth in the name of God, of Jesus Christ, of Reliligion and the like) to stab and wound it afresh; having forked stings like Serpents to sting every hand that toucheth, swoln with venome like Toads to spit at every person that owneth, and like Vipers ready at all times to fasten on every man that shall dare to be an asserter thereof; that now none so persecute as they, enough to affright me from Church-ship, to renounce and abominate it for ever; did not I know its institution to be holy and good, and the wayes of those men no natural product or fruit of Church constitutions.
I tell you (my dearest friends, and fellow asserters of the publick cause) knowing how circumspect, tender & careful we ought to be; now especially to shew our affections, our truth and fidelity to our persecuted wounded, forsaken, and almost murthered cause, when none there is scarce that dare own it or indulge it in publike, and to approve our selves like the good Samaritan indeed to binde up its wounds, to poure in our wine and oyle, and have a care of it; I shall therefore (least your jelousie over me should take too deep an impression upon your spirits, and so work an in confidence in you, in any future asserters of our cause, to the extreme dammage and prejudice of the cause it self) unbosome the present disposition of my heart and resolutions concerning the same, although to give you the particular reasons for the late obscurity or silence of my pen, at present I judge not convenient.
My Friends, of this therefore be yee confident, that my silence hath not proceeded from any degeneration or instability in me to that Righteous Cause (summ’d up in our draught of an Agreement of the people, subscribed, published and offered by us four as a peace offering, to the consideration of the people of England, 1. May. 1649,) that Paper, (or rather the contents or premises thereof) is the price, glory and end of my endurance, neither life, liberty on reparation, or any thing that man or earth affords is valuable with me in comparison thereof, that is my all in all; I desire neither life liberty, or reparation (seeing God hath called me to the work) but as may stand in subordination to that Agreement; while I have life or breath it shall never want a true asserter to uphold and promote the same to the utmost of my power, let the hazard and danger to my self be what it will.
Although I have sat thus long in the shadow of silence, yet let not my friends suspect me, nor mine enemies vaunt over me, for though my person is their captive, yet have I so much spirit and fidelity left, to scorn their tyrannyes, and dare them to their teethes to do their worst; let them finde Gallowes, Gybbets, Prisons, Halters, &c. Ile finde carcass to encounter, till I have encountered out my life, I fear none of their Treason traps, I scorne and defy them; for that Agreement I will have, or else Ile dye at their feet; Ile have no accord or peace with them at all till they have yeelded that: whether at liberty or in prison, it is all one to me.
It is neither my own life, liberty, nor reparation that I stand for, as the proper end of my Engagement; I have set my hand to the plow, and that paper hath proclaim’d it, and bears testimony thereof, and shall I look back for my own advantage, God forbid; rather let me die, then live the life of Den (that accursed English Judas;) The bread of Apostacy, Lord, never let it enter into my lips; to drink the blood, and eat the flesh of my Countries Cause; yea, of the children that are yet unborn, as that Viper, that wretched Traytor hath done, or be clothed with the garments of such abhorred abhomination; farre, farre be it from me and mine, rather let us be cloathed in Rags, and let me linger out my dayes, fettered and mannacl’d in some of their noysome murdering Dungeons to bear testimony against them, for that Righteous Agreement: God hath given me the heart, and fild it with power and patience for the work; life, liberty and reparations, that golden ball and bait of Apostacy shall not satisfie me, it is not for such flattering pictures, that I am at variance with them, although my condition might invite me to such worldly acceptances; no, I first set my hand to the work out of integrity and simplicity of heart, without all selfe or by-ends, God is my record, and I trust, he that began that good work in me, will bear me out in it, to the end; and that is my earnest and hearty prayer.
Therefore, my friends, be not you fearfull or jealous of my integrity, I wish none of your heads may ake till I turn apostate, sure I shall first turn into the dust: and for the truth of this my professed integrity, I referre you for proofe to my future actings, if they therewith commensurate, let me be justified, if not condemned, by the fruit let the tree be judged: other judgings I need not much vallew, for such judgments ever betray an evill spirit in the Judgers.
But now my dear friends, you especially, which have provoked me thus at this time, to unbosome the secret resolves of my heart, (who perhaps by some, not duly weighing the occasion and necessity, may be ascribed to vain glory and arrogance) you I desire, to rub up your wits, consider and tell me, whether instead of those jealous surmises of me, your time had not better been spent in considering some way wherein you might equally discharge your duties with us, that are so close immured in the Tower; think you, that we are able to remove mountaines; we are but men, and no more but four men: Imagine you, that there are no more hands required to the work, or that it is possible for us to doe all the drudgery, and perfect the same, while you stretch your selves upon your beds and take your ease, leaving all at sixes and sevens, and the cause to sink or swim, to stand or fall, if we look not after to beare it up: My friends, the Cause is as much yours as ours, and your duties with ours are of equall extent; but how comes your practice so short, so dull, and remisse; upon all occasions you expect vigerous actings from us, while you look over your selves: I cannot see, but that a Prison, the Gallows, or halter would become the best of you as well as any of us, to vindicate or assert that Agreement of the people.
But you spit in our mouthes, and clap us on the backs like Dogs, and cry, ha-looe a-looe, and turn us loose upon all the Bulls, Bears. Wolves, Lyons and Dragons of the times, which are thousands to one, (I confesse I love the sport) while you shrink, and skulk into you holes: Come out for shame, come out, and catch me the great Bull of Bason by the NOSE, and make him roar.
Whu———all my brave Levelling Bull dogs and Bear Dogs, where are you? Siz———; ha—looe—ha—looe—all fly at him at once: There at him, at him; O brave Jockey with the Sea-green ribbond in his eare! that Dog and his fellow for fourty shillings a Dog: Hold, hold, he hath caught him by the Gennitals, stave him off, give the Bull fair play.—A pox—they have burnt my Dogs mouth.
Ha—looe,—ha—looe———all at him againe, and bate him out of England into Ireland, and there the brave Royall Bandogs will tug him and tear him to some purpose: But stay, first let me clap this nettle under his Tayle, and tell him, wee’l never leave biting and bating, if all the lusty levelling Masties in England will do it, till we have worryed, or broke the Buls neck, or else gain’d our Agreement.
Martin can sing no other tune since he was cag’d up in the Tower, but The Agreement of the People, The Agreement of the People; and is resolv’d to sing no other note but that: all his airy Canto’s, and sweet roundelayes must all be to the good English tune, of The Agreement of the people.
But (my friends) to return. Be not yee luld asleep with none of their blandishments: They now talke much indeed of Reparations for Colonel Martins great losses, of our Liberties, of Mr Lilburns and Mr Princes money, and of such like rattles and toyes, but you may remember their old tricks and delusions and understand the mysterie of those guilded motions; when at the generall risings in Essex, Kent, invasion of the Scots &c. they wanted help, O how honest would they be to the just interest of the people! when the House was to bee broken in pieces, then no way but we must have an Agreement of the People*; when the King was to come to the Block, and a bloody High Court of injustice, and a Councell of State erected, then what a white Boy was Colonel Martin? A Regiment of horse was voted for him by the House, to keep the pertty Baby at play with that fine tan-ta-ra-rarah tan tarra, while their work was over: when our friends were up about Burford, then a Committee must be appointed to consider of Elections for a New Representative in all haste. And now think you, what is at the bottom of their new smiling Aspects towards us? quiequid id est, ti meo Danaos & Dona terrentes: Ile trust them no further then I can sling their great Bull of Bason by the taile; their smiles are but on purpose to slay. The Prince, the Scots and Irish have prepared them more fish then they are well able to fry, that they are so forward to fetch a col. from our Altar to augment their fire.
Therefore while it is day consider what you have to do, strike now if you mean to speed, up with your Agreement of the People again, and beleeve nothing that they say or do, till you be real possessors thereof, and a new free Representative in being: and then let them do their worst, wee’l make them honest in despight of their teeths, and till then, and not before can I reckon of my reall deliverance from these bonds. Come, who strikes the first stroke? what says old Mother Harry? reach him there an Agreement of the People, it will become him better then his reparations in consideration. And where’s my little Gray of Grooby, what’s he in a Mousehole? and my old fellow Rebell Iohnee Wildman Mount Atlas stand on tiptoes where art thee? and behold a mighty stone fell from the skies into the bottome of the Sea, and gave a mighty plump, and great was the fall of that stone, and so farewell Iohnee Wildman. VVhat my Sea-green gallants, where are you all, what neither hot nor cold, neither fish nor flesh nor good Red-herring? Is your spirits sunk into your heels, or your wits into the napes of your necks? rouse up for shame and shew your selves in your kind, or else out amongst you flyes the little whisking mischievous bird, Primate and Metropolitan of all the Swallows and Martins in England; and then look to your selves.
But now to make up the jest, an Act of Grace forsooth is cast into the forge, under which they are pleased to report, that the four arch-Levelling Rebels in the Tower shall be comprised: Smile O Heavens, and clap thy hands O earth, ha, ha, ha. And must all our sins and trespasses be forgiven us now? but first what is our trespasse? The Agreement of the People! Sure there is great need of forgivenesse of so high an offence, if it be considered, who they are that therewith can be offended; indeed vice is a vertue, and only vertue a vice with hells Cabinet Juncto, and so comes to passe the trick of forgivenesse for us: but tell them (my friends) that little brisk Levelling Dick in the Tower hath not his integrity yet (as merry as is his worship) at so low an esteem, to desire his Liberty upon so dishonorable and base an accompt: what have I set my hand to the glorious cause of the free people of England, and engaged my carcasse in the controversie, and shall I now hang down mine head like a Bulrush and yeeld up my self for a little dirty liberty, to be turn’d out as an Evil doer to the everlasting dishonour of my cause: no, Ile dye first.
Therefore know all men by these presents, that I Richard Overton, now close prisoner in the Tower of London, out of a tender regard that I have to the Libertyes of my Country, and credit of that honorable cause, do hereby defy, renounce, abhor, detest and scorne that Act of Pardon as to my Liberty thereby, and do rather chuse continuance and encrease of Bonds, then condtionall submission or assent thereunto in the least: And hitherto as I have scorned any clandestine or open complyance with them for any selfish end whatsoever, so let this (my friends) be a witnesse betwixt you and me, and to the whole world, that I am so far from submission to their corrupt and wicked interest, that I will first eat the flesh off from my bones; first rot and perish in Goal, before I will so far bow to them, as in the least to woo them or any of their creatures, either directly or indirectly in person or by proxie for my liberty: my cause is not so bad, but with patience I can suffer till I be justly delivered without blemish or speck of infamy to the same; the honour of it, I honour above my life or liberty.
Now were I already upon the dishonourable terms of that act thrust out, it were a thousand to one, I should not keep a month out of Prison: To what end therefore should I trouble my head about my liberty, till I can be at peace, and rest when I am abroad, for without the Agreement or sufficient security for the same, I can have none. I am more at content where I am, then to be with you upon unequal terms.
Thus my truly dear, and worthy friends, I hope as concerning my integrity and constant faithfulness to what I have undertaken in behalf of the publick; I have given you clear and ful satisfaction, to the utter removal I suppose of those late jealous incoms a-amongst you: And so with my intire love and respects unto you all, with inward joy, comfort and gladness of heart in bonds for my Countrys sake, rejoycing, I rest.
See Col. Lilburne, Legall Fundamental Liberties of the People, pag. [Editor: illegible word], 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, & [Editor: illegible word].