The Perfect Politician revisited

by Nick

I’ve been doing a bit of digging since the weekend about the possible authorship of The Perfect Politician. My first thought was to check other references to pamphlets authored by an “L.S.”. EEBO had a couple of references to some implausible candidates, but it also contains a reference to a 1652 pamphlet called Natures Dowrie. Natures dowrie

This was apparently “Printed for W.R. at the signe of the Unicorn in Pauls Church-yard, 1652″. Perfect Politician was printed for William Roybould at the Unicorn. A possible connection? Yes, until you read Natures Dowrie. It’s a heavy, classically and theologically argued tract about how authority derives from the people, and how monarchical government not an absolute necessity. Stylistically and in content it’s a long way away from Perfect Politician. Stephen Pincus attributes it to Lazarus Seaman, who was close to the Commonwealth during the 1650s (hence perhaps the reference in the preface to conversation with an MP and Councillor of State). (Tai Liu, ‘Seaman, Lazarus (d. 1675)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004).

So that’s one avenue ruled out. And then I looked again at the actual pamphlet, and noticed that I’d been rather stupid. Although Morrill attributes it to L.S., and indeed the smudged wording of the initials can be read as such, it actually seems to be I.S., with the first dot smudged into the I, making it look like an L. L.S. or I.S.?I and J can still be used interchangeably for this period, so are we actually looking for someone whose first name starts with J? Then I googled for JS and Perfect Politician, and came across this book by Adrian Johns – see note 67. Johns wonders (but doesn’t present evidence) whether I.S. is John Streater, a soldier, writer and printer who was critical of Cromwell. (Adrian Johns, ‘Streater, John (c.1620–1677)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 ). I was intrigued so dug into the evidence:

  • Streater joined the parliamentary army early in 1642, fighting at Newbury and Edgehill. After being wounded and returning to London, he later joined the New Model and fought in Ireland for three years, returning just before the dissolution of the Rump. This might explain the detailed first half on Cromwell’s military achievements, particularly in Ireland – where a detailed knowledge of events has clearly been applied by the author.
  • He was present during the climactic events preceding the dissolution and distributed Ten Queries against Cromwell’s speech to officers in relation to the Rump’s failures. The author of Perfect Politician devotes a significant chunk – pp.218-226 – to analysing the downfall of the Rump, and mentions Cromwell plotting with the Council of Officers to carry out the dissolution.
  • In a tract written in Ireland, A Glympse of that Jewel, for which he was cashiered, he deployed allusions to Caesar and Alexander. In Perfect Politician, there is the following: “nothing could satisfie Caesar’s Ambition, but a perpetual Dictatorship; nor Alexander’s, but to have more world’s to conquer; and why then should our Cromwell, having the same aspiration (and inspiration above them) be satisfied with less than a perpetual Protectorship?” (pp.252-253). Both share the same theme of preventing a single person from assuming power lest it corrupt.
  • He returned to the army with the restoration of the Rump in 1659, and regretfully acquiesced with their move back to monarchy. He fought against Lambert’s army at Edgehill. This might explain the ambiguous tone, both critical of Cromwell and absolutism in general but also not as radical as Streater’s previous work – but then again, it may argue against it being by Streater too.

I haven’t really had the time to read into Streater’s other pamphlets in detail to compare the content and the language, and the evidence isn’t conclusive, but it does seem we have a candidate. (And it rules out my point on last initials of the first and surnames!). And my own lesson has been to go back ad fontes, where a fresh pair of eyes really can bring fresh insight.

Update – I’ve posted more on John Streater, and the likelihood of him being the author, here.