Behemoth/Preface

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PREFACE.

OF Hobbes’s Behemoth, or (as it was commonly called) the Dialogue of the Civil Wars of England, though written probably a few years after the Restoration, there was no genuine edition during the author’s lifetime, which lasted until 1679. But three years later his old publisher, William Crooke, issued a volume entitled, Tracts of Mr. Th. H. of Malmsbury, containing in the first place the treatise entitled Behemoth, which is followed by three other pieces, and introduced by the following remarks: “My duty, as well to the Public as to the memory of Mr. Hobbs, has obliged me to procure, with my utmost diligence, that these Tracts should come forth with the most correct exactness. I am compelled by the force of Truth to declare, how much both the world and the name of Mr. Hobbs have been abused by the several spurious editions of the ‘History of the Civil Wars,’ wherein, by various and unskilful transcriptions, are committed above a thousand faults, and in above a hundred places whole lines left out, as I can make appear. I must confess Mr. Hobbs, upon some considerations, was averse to the publishing thereof; but since it is impossible to suppress it, no book being more commonly sold by all book-sellers, I hope I need not fear the offence of any man, by doing right to the world and this work, which I now publish from the original manuscript, done by his own amanuensis, and given me by himself above twelve years since,” &c. In the meantime, Mr. Crooke had been printing a letter by Hobbes, written to him shortly before the philosopher’s death, and relating to the same affair, which in part explains, in part modifies, his foregoing statements. This letter he prefixed to his new edition of Hobbes’s apology for his own life and character, in 1680 (Considerations upon the reputation, loyalty, manners, and religion of Thomas Hobbes of Malmsbury written by himself by way of letter to a learned person), inserting it in the following “advertisement to the readers”: “I do here present you with a piece of Mr. Hobbes’s writing, which is not published from an imperfect MS., as his ‘Dialogue of the Civil Wars of England’ was (by some that had got accidentally a copy of it) absolutely against his consent, as you may see by some passages out of some of his letters to me which I have here inserted. In his letter of June, 1679, he saith: I would fain have published my ‘Dialogue of the Civil Wars of England’ long ago, and to that end I presented it to his Majesty; and some days after, when I thought he had read it, I humbly besought him to let me print it; but his Majesty (though he heard me graciously, yet he) flatly refused to have it published. Therefore I brought away the book, and gave you leave to take a copy of it; which, when you had done, I gave the original to an honourable and learned friend, who about a year after died. The king knows better, and is more concerned in publishing of books than I am: therefore I dare not venture to appear in the business, lest it should offend him. Therefore I pray you not to meddle in the business. Rather than to be thought any way to further or countenance the printing, I would be content to lose twenty times the value of what you can expect to gain by it,” &c. To this now may be added the following unprinted passage from a letter, which was addressed at a still later date (August 19, 1679) by the aged philosopher to his friend John Aubrey (the end of it being inserted in Aubrey’s Sketch of Hobbes’s Life, published in “Letters from the Bodleian,” vol. ii., ubi vid. p. 614), running thus: “I have been told that my book of the civil war is come abroad, and am sorry for it, especially because I could not get his Majesty to license it, not because it is ill printed or has a foolish title set to it, for I believe that any ingenious man may understand the wickedness of that time, notwithstanding the errors of the press.” (Bodl. MS., Wood E., 4.)

Now, though it is true that Crooke’s edition was very much improved as compared with the spurious ones, yet it was not made from the original copy, which I believe myself to have discovered and made use of now for the first time. The copy of which I speak is a beautifully written MS., preserved in St. John’s College, Oxford; and upon this, as a matter of course, the present new edition, after a careful collation, has been founded, and may justly be said to stand in the same relation to the text as hitherto known,[1] which this one had to the unauthorized pamphlets above mentioned. For not only are there in this edition a very great number of places corrected, but also many deficient passages have been supplied. Amongst the latter there were some, erased with great care in the MS. itself, which I had great trouble in deciphering, though with very few exceptions I succeeded in so doing. I have not hesitated to insert these passages into the text, since they were evidently suppressed, not for reasons connected with the style and composition of the work, but as containing statements of opinion too strong to be made known, even through the medium of a manuscript copy; as will be better understood from the purport of the foregoing letters. The value of the corrections and additions made in this edition will in part be seen from the notes at the foot of the page, in which the more important of them are indicated.[2]

As to the book itself, it will give not a little pleasure to any thinking reader, being, in the words of Warburton, “full of shrewd remarks;” and it may be recommended as of high interest to the historical student as well as to the philosopher and politician. For, “in spite of his estrangement from the world around him, Hobbes continues to possess an increasing historical importance. Men and things change, but ideas expressed in words and in writing can soar above this change, and exercise an influence over the most distant epochs” (Leopold von Ranke, History of England, Engl, trans., vol. iii. p. 576). And in confirmation of this view it may not be amiss also to quote the words by which a former editor (Mr. Maseres) justifies the republication of “Behemoth.”

“As Mr. Hobbes,” he says (vol. ii. p. 657), “was a man of great ability and learning, and well acquainted with the history and forms of government of many different nations, both ancient and modern; and was also, as I believe, a very honest man and a great lover of truth; and as he lived through the two reigns of King James the First and King Charles the First, and through the Interregnum after King Charles’s death to the Restoration of King Charles the Second, and through the next following eighteen years; and as he was, for the most part, resident in England during the ten years immediately preceding the civil war, and had conversed with several of the most eminent persons who afterwards were engaged in it, both on the king’s side and that of the Parliament—I thought he was a writer singularly fit to be consulted and cited as a witness of the several events and transactions in those preceding years of King Charles’s reign, which might justly be considered as the causes of the unhappy contest,” &c.

It will be needful, perhaps, to give an explanation of the aged philosopher’s complaint, quoted above (p. viii), as to the ‘foolish title’ prefixed to previous editions of the present work. The fact is that the words, “or the Long Parliament,” now inserted according to the MS., had been left out in those editions, and consequently the meaning of the principal title (viz. Behemoth) failed to be suggested to the reader’s mind; which meaning, as will now be sufficiently evident, implies a relation of contrast to the better known Leviathan, as representing the idea of a lawful government.

Husum (Schleswig-Holstein),
March, 1889.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. It was said already with good reason (notwithstanding the publisher’s assurance) by Mr. Anthony à Wood (or Mr. Aubrey) to contain many faults [Athenæ Oxon, vol. ii. col. 1213, ed. Bliss]; and the same text has been reprinted, first in the Moral and Political Works of T. H., 1750, then in a collection of Select tracts relating to the civil wars in England in the reign of King Charles the First, by writers who lived in the time of those wars, and were witnesses of the events which they describe. Edited by Francis Maseres, London, 1815 (in this reprint there are a few alterations from conjecture). And, lastly, in Molesworth’s edition, English Works, vol. vi., which I have compared here in the first place with the MS.
  2. The words and passages which were never printed before, and amongst them the Epistle dedicatory, have been marked by asteriscs at the beginning and the end of them; and the sentences which were erased in the MS., by parentheses *[.…]* also. In the foot-notes I would chiefly draw attention to a number of corrections which are inserted in the MS. by the author’s own hand.