Page images
PDF
EPUB

and 169 the deadly h. continue 7 possible han a pro

face. What the exact scheme of the parliament was, we cannot accurately tell, and we are never likely to know. Cromwell's own descriptions of it are vague and unintelligible. The bill itself, when the evil day came, he carried away with him under his cloak, and no copy of it survived. It appears, however, that in Vane's belief the best device for a provisional government—and no other than a provisional government was then possible—was that the remnant should continue to sit, the men who fought the deadly battles at Westminster in 1647 and 1648, the men who had founded the Commonwealth in 1649, the men who had carried on its work with extraordinary energy and success for four years and more. These were to continue to sit as a nucleus for a full representation, joining to themselves such new men from the constituencies as they thought not likely to betray the Cause. On the whole we may believe that this was perhaps the least unpromising way out of difficulties where nothing was very promising. It was to avoid the most fatal of all the errors of the French Constituent, which excluded all its members from office and from seats in the Legislative Assembly to whose inexperienced hands it was entrusting the government of France. To blame its authors for fettering the popular choice was absurd in Cromwell, whose own proposal, instead of a legislature to be partially and periodically renewed (if that was really what Vane meant), was now for a nominated council without any element of popular choice at all. The army, we should not forget, were even less prepared than the parliament for anything like a free and open general election. Both alike intended to reserve parliamentary representation exclusively to such as were godly men and faithful to the interests of the Commonwealth. An open general election would have been as hazardous and probably as disastrous now, as at any moment since the defeat of

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

King Charles in the field; and a real appeal to the country would only have meant ruin to the Good Cause. Neither Cromwell nor Lambert nor Harrison nor any of them dreamed that a parliament to be chosen without restrictions would be a safe experiment. The only questions were what the restrictions were to be; who was to impose them; who was to guard and supervise them. The parliamentary remnant regarded themselves as the fittest custodians, and it is hard to say that they were wrong. In judging these events of 1653, we must look forward to events three years later. Cromwell had a parliament of his own in 1654 ; it consisted of 460 members ; almost his first step was to prevent more than a hundred of them from taking their seats. He may have been right; but why was the parliament wrong for acting on the same principle? He had another parliament in 1656, and again he began by shutting out nearly a hundred of its elected members. The truth is that when the army cried for a dissolution, they had no ideas as to the parliament that was to follow. At least this much is certain, that whatever failure might have overtaken the plan of Vane and the parliament, it could not have been more complete than the failure that overtook the plan of Cromwell.

Apart from the question of the constitution of parliament, and perhaps regarding that as secondary, Cromwell quarrelled with what rightly or wrongly he describes as the ultimate ideal of Vane and his friends. We should have had fine work, he said four years later—a Council of State and a parliament of four hundred men executing arbitrary government, and continuing the existing usurpation of the duties of the law-courts by legislature and executive. Undoubtedly “a horrid degree of arbitrariness” was practised by the Rump, but some allowance was to be made for a government in revolution; and if that plea be not good for the parliament, one knows not why it should be good for the no less “ horrid arbitrariness” of the Protector. As for the general character of the constitution here said to be contemplated by the remnant, it has been compared to the French Convention of 1793 ; but a less invidious and a truer parallel would be with the Swiss Confederacy to-day. However this may be, if dictatorship was indispensable, the dictatorship of an energetic parliamentary oligarchy was at least as hopeful as that of an oligarchy of soldiers. When the soldiers had tried their hands and failed, it was to some such plan as this that after years of turmoil and vicissitude Milton turned. At worst it was no plan that either required or justified violent deposition by a file of troopers.

The conference in Cromwell's apartments at Whitehall on April 19 was instantly followed by one of those violent outrages for which we have to find a name in the dialect of continental revolution. It had been agreed that the discussion should be resumed the next day, and meanwhile that nothing should be done with the bill in parliament. When the next morning came, news was brought to Whitehall that the members had already assembled, were pushing the bill through at full speed, and that it was on the point of becoming law forthwith. At first Cromwell and the officers could not believe that Vane and his friends were capable of such a breach of their word. Soon there came a second messenger and a third, with assurance that the tidings were true, and that not a moment was to be lost if the bill was to be prevented from passing. It is perfectly possible that there was no breach of word at all. The parliamentary probabilities are that the news of the conference excited the jealousy of the private members, as arrangements between front benches are at all times apt to do, that they took the business into their own hands, and that the leaders were powerless. In astonishment and anger,

CHAP VI

CHAP. VI PROCEEDINGS IN THE HOUSE 307 Cromwell in no more ceremonial apparel than his plain black clothes and grey worsted stockings, hastened to the House of Commons. He ordered a guard of soldiers to go with him. That he rose that morning with the intention of following the counsels that the impatience of the army had long prompted, and finally completing the series of exclusions, mutilations, and purges by breaking up the parliament altogether, there is no reason to believe. Long premeditation was never Cromwell's way. He waited for the indwelling voice, and more than once in the rough tempests of his life, that daimonic voice was a blast of coarse and uncontrolled fury. Hence came one of the most memorable scenes of English history. There is a certain discord as to details among our too scanty authorities—some even describing the fatal transaction as passing with much modesty and as little noise as can be imagined. The description derived by Ludlow who was not present, from Harrison who was, gathers up all that seems material. There appear to have been between fifty and sixty members present.

Cromwell sat down and heard the debate for some time. Then, calling to Major-General Harrison, who was on the other side of the House, to come to him, he told him that he judged the parliament ripe for a dissolution and this to be the time for doing it. The major-general answered, as he since told me,“ Sir, the work is very great and dangerous : therefore I desire you seriously to consider of it before you engage in it.” “You say well,replied the general, and thereupon sat still for about a quarter of an hour. Then, the question for passing the bill being to be put, he said to Major-General Harrison, This is the time : I must do it,and suddenly standing up, made a speech, wherein he loaded the parliament with the vilest reproaches, charging them not to have a heart to do anything for the public good, to have espoused the corrupt interest of presbytery and the lawyers, who were the supporters of tyranny and oppression-accusing them of an intention to perpetuate themselves in power; had they not been forced to the passing of this Act, which he affirmed they designed never to observe,

Mad suddenbarliament heart to do, at interest i tyranny ante

[graphic]

and thereupon told them that the Lord had done with them, and had chosen other instruments for the carrying on his work that were more worthy. This he spoke with so much passion and discomposure of mind as if he had been distracted. Sir Peter Wentworth stood up to answer him, and said that this was the first time that ever he heard such unbecoming language given to the parliament, and that it was the more horrid in that it came from their servant, and their servant whom they had so highly trusted and obliged. But, as he was going on, the general stepped into the midst of the House, where, continuing his distracted language, he said, “ Come, come : I will put an end to your prating.Then, walking up and down the House like a madman, and kicking the ground with his feet, he cried out, “ You are no parliament ; I say you are no parliament; I will put an end to your sitting ; call them in, call them in.” Whereupon the sergeant attending the parliament opened the doors; and Lieutenant-Colonel Wolseley, with two files of musketeers, entered the House; which Sir Henry Vane observing from his place said aloud, “This is not honest; yea, it is against morality and common honesty.” Then Cromwell fell a-railing at him, crying out with a loud voice,Oh, Sir Henry Vane, Sir Henry Vane, the Lord deliver me from Sir Henry Vane!Then, looking to one of the members, he said, “There sits a drunkard”...; and, giving much reviling language to others, he commanded the mace to be taken away, saying, “ What shall we do with this bauble? There, take it away.He having brought all into this disorder, Major-General Harrison went to the Speaker as he sat in the chair, and told him that, seeing things were reduced to this pass, it would not be convenient for him to remain there. The Speaker answered that he would not come down unless he were forced. “ Sir,” said Harrison, “I will lend you my hand”; and thereupon, putting his hand within his, the Speaker came down. Then Cromwell applied himself to the members of the House ... and said to them, It's you that have forced me to this, for I have sought the Lord night and day that he would rather slay me than put me on the doing of this work ![Then] Cromwell ... ordered the House to be cleared of all the members ... ; after which he went to the clerk, and snatching the Act of Dissolution, which was ready to pass, out of his hand, he put it under his cloak, and, having commanded the doors to be locked up, went away to Whitehall.

be cleared of "Then) Cromy me than put me

« PreviousContinue »