The Isle of Pines and Plato Redivivus

by Henry Neville (Author)
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Henry Neville (1620–1694), writes
David Womersley in his Introduction, was “an experienced political actor who
united a practitioner’s sense of possibility with literary flair and
imagination as he struggled to achieve headway for his republican commitments
in the deceptive waters of late Stuart monarchy.”

Educated at Oxford, Neville made an
extended visit to Italy in 1643–44, where he formed long-standing connections
in Florence and studied the institutions of republican Venice. In 1649 he
entered the House of Commons with the support of Algernon Sidney (who was his
second cousin). Over the next few years, Neville wrote pamphlets against the
usurpation of the army and the threat of Cromwellian dictatorship, and as the
Restoration approached, he was a leading member of James Harrington’s Rota

In late 1667 or early 1668, after he
had returned to England from a second trip to Italy, Neville wrote the first of
the two works on which his reputation now rests. The Isle of Pines
(1668) is at initial glance a slight, even salacious, shipwreck fantasy in
which a fictional Elizabethan castaway, George Pines, and four female
co-survivors populate a luxuriant tropical island with a thriving community
that eventually numbers almost two thousand. Like Harrington before him,
Neville plays with the island trope and flirts with political implication,
although it is unclear quite how serious and profound these implications are
intended to be.

Neville pursues similar republican
themes more fully and directly in his major work of 1680, Plato
Often read as a moderate adaptation of Harringtonian
principles to the realities of a monarchical system that was now again
entrenched, the treatise is notable for its insistence on kingship as a trust
from the people, on the duty of kings to relegate their own interests beneath
those of their subjects, and on constitutional sanctions such as annual
parliaments as necessary checks on royal power. “Mixed monarchy” and “limited
monarchy” are emphatic terms throughout the work. However, Neville’s critique
of late Stuart monarchy relies more on the kind of cosmopolitan republicanism
to which he had been exposed in his Italian travels than it does on more
familiar home-grown concepts such as ancient constitutionalism.

The only scholarly edition of Henry
Neville’s most important writings, the Liberty Fund edition is constructed on a
solid textual foundation, offering for the first time a thorough annotation of
both texts.

David Womersley is the Thomas Warton Professor of English Literature at the
University of Oxford. He has published widely on English literature from the
early sixteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. He is the editor of Jonathan
Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (2012) for Cambridge University Press.

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Publication date
June 21, 2022
File size
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