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What are all our histories, cried Cromwell in 1655, what are all our traditions of Actions in former times, but God manifesting himself, that hath shaken and tumbled down and trampled upon everything that he had not planted ? It was not long after, that Bossuet began to work out the same conception in the glowing literary form of the discourse on universal history. What was in Bossuet the theme of a divine, was in Cromwell the life-breath of act, toil, hope, submission. For him, the drama of time is no stage-play, but an inspired and foreordained dispensation ever unfolding itself “under a waking and all-searching Eye,” and in this high epic England had the hero's part. “I look at the people of these nations as the blessing of the Lord,” he said, “and they are a people blessed by God. ... If I had not had a hope fixed in me that this cause and this business was of God, I would many years ago have run from it. ... But if the Lord take pleasure in England, and if he will do us good, he is very able to bear us up. ..." As England was the home of the Chosen People, so also he read in all the providences of battlefields from Winceby to Worcester, that he was called to be the Moses or the Joshua of the new deliverance.
Milton's fervid Latin appeal of this date did but roll forth in language of his own incomparable splendour, though in phrases savouring more of Pericles or Roman stoic than of the Hebrew sacred books, the thoughts that lived in Cromwell. Milton had been made Secretary of the first Council of State almost immediately after the execution of the king in 1649, and he was employed in the same or similar duties until the end of Cromwell and after. Historic imagination seeks to picture the personal relations between these two master-spirits, but no trace remains. They must sometimes have been in the council chamber together; but whether they ever interchanged a word we do not know. When asked for a letter of introduction for a friend to the English ambassador in Holland (1657), Milton excused himself, saying, “I have very little acquaintance with those in power, inasmuch as I keep very much to my own house, and prefer to do so." A painter's fancy has depicted Oliver dictating to the Latin secretary the famous despatches on the slaughtered saints whose bones lay scattered on the Alpine mountains cold ; but by then the poet had lost his sight, and himself probably dictated the English drafts from Thurloe's instructions, and then turned them into his own sonorous Latin. He evidently approved the supersession of the parliament, though we should remember that he includes in all the breadth of his panegyric both Bradshaw and Overton, who as strongly disapproved. He bids the new Protector to recall the aspect and the wounds of that host of valorous men who with him for leader had fought so strenuous a fight for freedom, and to revere their shades. Further he adjures him to revere himself, that thus the freedom for which he had faced countless perils and borne such heavy cares, he would never suffer to be either CHAP. I MILTON AND CROMWELL 327 violated by hand of his, or impaired by any other. “ Thou canst not be free if we are not; for it is the law of nature that he who takes away the liberty of others is by that act the first himself to lose his own. A mighty task hast thou undertaken ; it will probe thee to the core, it will show thee as thou art, thy carriage, thy force, thy weight; whether there be truly alive in thee that piety, fidelity, justice, and moderation of spirit, for which we believe that God hath exalted thee above thy fellows. To guide three mighty states by counsel, to conduct them from institutions of error to a worthier discipline, to extend a provident care to furthest shores, to watch, to foresee, to shrink from no toil, to flee all the empty shows of opulence and power,—these indeed are things so arduous that, compared with them, war is but as the play of children.”
Such is the heroic strain in which the man of high aerial visions hailed the man with strength of heart and arm and power of station. This Miltonian glory of words marks the high tide of the advance from the homely sages of 1640, to the grand though transient recasting of the fundamental conceptions of national consciousness and life. The apostle and the soldier were indeed two men of different type, and drew their inspiration from very different fountains ; but we may well believe Aubrey when he says that there were those who came over to England only to see Oliver Protector and John Milton.
II Four days sufficed to erect a new government. The scheme was prepared by the officers, with Lambert at their head. Cromwell fell in with it, caring little about formal constitutions either way. On the afternoon of December 16, 1653, a procession set out from Whitehall for Westminster Hall. The
judges in their robes, the high officers of government, the Lord Mayor and the magnates of the city, made their way amid two lines of soldiers to the Chancery Court where a chair of state had been placed upon a rich carpet. Oliver, clad in a suit and cloak of black velvet, and with a gold band upon his hat, was invited by Lambert to take upon himself the office of Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, conformably to the terms of an Instrument of Government which was then read. The Lord-General assented, and forthwith took and subscribed the solemn oath of fidelity to the matters and things set out in the Instrument. Then, covered, he sat down in the chair of state while those in attendance stood bareheaded about him. The commissioners ceremoniously handed to him the great seal, and the Lord Mayor proffered him his sword of office. The Protector returned the seal and sword, and after he had received the grave obeisance of the dignitaries around him, the act of state ended and he returned to the palace of Whitehall, amid the acclamations of the soldiery and the half-ironic curiosity of the crowd. He was proclaimed by sound of trumpet in Palace Yard, at the Old Exchange, and in other places in London, the Lord Mayor attending in his robes, the sergeants with their maces, and the heralds in their gold coats. Henceforth the Lord Protector “ observed new and great state, and all ceremonies and respects were paid to him by all sorts of men as to their prince.” The new constitution thus founding, though it did not long uphold, the Protectorate, was the most serious of the expedients of that distracted time.
The first stage of the Protectorate was in fact a near approach to a monarchical system very like that which Strafford would have set up for Charles, or which Bismarck two hundred years later set up for the King of Prussia. One difference is that