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CHAP. VII DISSIPATION OF A DREAM 319 but to lead a life of godliness and honesty, let him be protected.” Toleration was now in Cromwell neither a conclusion drawn out by logical reason, nor a mere dictate of political expediency. It flowed from a rich fountain in his heart of sympathy with men, of kindness for their sore struggles after saving truth, of compassion for blind stumbles and mistaken paths.
A few weeks began the dissipation of the dream. They were all sincere and zealous, but the most zealous were the worst simpletons. The soldier's jealousy of civil power, of which Cromwell had made himself the instrument on the twentieth of April, was a malady without a cure. The impatience that had grown so bitter against the old parliament soon revived against the new convention. It was the more unreasonable because the convention represented the temper and ideas of the army, such as they were, and the failure of the convention marks the essential sterility of the army viewed as a constructive party. Just as it is the nature of courts of law to amplify the jurisdiction, so it is the well-known nature of every political assembly to extend its powers. The moderate or conservative element seems to have had a small majority in the usual balance of parties, but the forward men made up for inferiority in numbers by warmth and assiduity. The fervour of the forward section in the parliament was stimulated by fanaticism out of doors : by cries that their gold had become dim, the ways of Zion filled with mourning, and a dry wind but neither to fan nor to cleanse upon the land: above all by the assurances of the preachers, that the four monarchies of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus, of Alexander and Rome, had each of them passed away, and that the day had come for the Fifth and final Monarchy, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ upon the earth : and this, no mere reign set up in men's hearts, but a scheme for governing nations and giving laws for settling liberty, property, and the foundations of a commonwealth.
The fidelity of the convention to Cromwell was shown by the unanimous vote that placed him on the Council of State ; but the great dictator kept himself in the background, and in good faith hoping against hope he let things take their course. “I am more troubled now,” said he, “ with the fool than with the knave.” The new men at once and without leave took to themselves the name of parliament. Instead of carrying on their special business of a constituent assembly, they set to work with a will at legislation, and legislation moreover in the high temper of Root-and-Branch, for cursed is he that doeth the work of the Lord negligently. A bill was run through all its stages in a single sitting, for the erection of a High Court of Justice in cases where a jury could not be trusted to convict. Ominous language was freely used upon taxation, and it was evident that the sacred obligations of supply and the pay of the soldiers and sailors were in peril. They passed a law requiring that all good marriages must take place before a justice of the peace, after due publication of banns in some open resort sacred or secular. Of the projects of law reform inherited from the Long Parliament they made nonsense. Before they had been a month in session, they passed a resolution that the Court of Chancery should be wholly taken away and abolished ; and after three bills had been brought in and dropped for carrying this resolution into act, they read a second time a fourth bill for summarily deciding cases then pending, and arranging that for the future the ordinary suits in chancery should be promptly despatched at a cost of from twenty to forty shillings. They set a committee, without a lawyer upon it, to work on the reduction of the formless mass of laws, cases, and precedents, to a
CHAP. VI THE NEW ASSEMBLY AT WORK 321
code that should be of no greater bigness than a pocket-book. The power of patrons to present to livings was taken away. More vital aspects of the church question followed. A committee reported in favour of the appointment of a body of state commissioners with power to eject unfit ministers and fill vacant livings; and, what was a more burning issue, in favour of the maintenance of tithe as of legal obligation. By a majority of two (56 against 54) the House disagreed with the report, and so indicated their intention to abolish tithe and the endowment of ministers of religion by the state. This led to the crisis. The effect of proceedings so singularly ill devised for the settlement of the nation was to irritate and alarm all the nation's most powerful elements. The army, the lawyers, the clergy, the holders of property, all felt themselves attacked; and the Lord-General himself perceived, in his own words afterwards, that the issue of this assembly would have been the subversion of the laws, and of all the liberties of their nation, the destruction of the ministers of the gospel, in short the confusion of all things; and instead of order, to set up the judicial law of Moses in abrogation of all our administrations. The design that shone so radiantly five months before, had sunk away in clouds and vain chimera. Nor had the reign of chimera even brought popularity. Lilburne, the foe of all government whether it were inspired by folly or by common sense, appeared once more upon the scene, and he was put upon his trial before a court of law for offences of which he had been pronounced guilty by the Long Parliament. The jury found him innocent of any crime worthy of death, and the verdict was received with shouts of joy by the populace. This was to demonstrate that the government of the saints was at least as odious as the government of the dispossessed Remnant.
The narrow division on the abolition of tithe convinced everybody that the ship was waterlogged. Sunday, December 11, was passed in the concoction of devices for bringing the life of the notables to an end. On Monday, the Speaker took the chair at an early hour, and a motion was promptly made that the sitting of the parliament was no longer for the public good, and therefore that they should deliver up to the Lord-General the powers they had received from him. An attempt to debate was made, but as no time was to be lost, in case of members arriving in numbers sufficient to carry a hostile motion, the Speaker rose from his chair, told the sergeant to shoulder the mace, and followed by some forty members who were in the secret set forth in solemn procession to Whitehall. A minority kept their seats, until a couple of colonels with a file of soldiers came to turn them out. According to a royalist story, one of the colonels asked them what they were doing. “ We are seeking the Lord,” was the answer. “ Then you should go elsewhere," the colonel replied, “ for to my knowledge the Lord has not been here these twelve years past.” We have Cromwell's words that he knew nothing of this intention to resign. If so, the dismissal of the fragment of the members by a handful of troopers on their own authority is strange, and shows the extraordinary pitch that military manners had reached. Oliver received the Speaker and his retinue with genuine or feigned surprise, but accepted the burden of power that the abdication of the parliament had once more laid upon him. .
These proceedings were an open breach with the saints, but as has been justly said (Weingarten), this circumstance involves no more contradiction between the Cromwell of the past and the Protector, than there is contradiction between the Luther who issued in 1520 his flaming manifesto to the Christian
nobles of the German nation, and the Luther that two years later confronted the misguided men who supposed themselves to be carrying out doctrines that they had learned from him. Puritanism, like the Reformation generally, was one of those revolts against the leaden yoke of convention, ordinance, institution, in which, whether in individuals or in a tidal mass of men, the human soul soars passionately forth toward new horizons of life and hope. Then the case for convention returns, the need for institutions comes back, the nature of things will not be hurried nor defied. Strong reaction followed the execution of the king. Painfully Milton now, five years later, bewailed the fact that the people with“ besotted and degenerate baseness of spirit, except some few who yet retain in them the old English fortitude and love of freedom, imbastardised from the ancient nobleness of their ancestors, are ready to fall flat and give adoration to the image and memory of this man.” These were the two strong floods between which, in their ebb and flow, Cromwell found himself caught. His practical eye discerned it all, and what had happened. Yet this was perhaps the moment when Cromwell first felt those misgivings of a devout conscience that inspired the question put by him on his deathbed, whether it was certain that a man once in grace must be always in grace.