Page images

visible, you begin to perceive that in the Speeches of Oliver himself once well read, such as they are, some shadowy outlines, authentic prefigurements of what the real History of the Time may have been, do first, in the huge inane night, begin to loom forth for you, - credible, conceivable in some measure, there for the first time. My reader's patience is henceforth to be still more severely tried: there is unluckily no help for it, as matters stand.

Great lakes of watery Correspondence relating to the History of this period, as we intimate, survive in print; and new are occasionally issued upon mankind :* but the essence of them has never yet in the smallest been elaborated by any man; will require a succession and assiduous series of many men to elaborate it. To pluck up the great History of Oliver from it, like drowned Honour by the locks; and show it to muchwondering and, in the end, right-thankful England! The richest and noblest thing England hitherto has. The basis England will have to start from again, if England is ever to struggle Godward again, instead of struggling Devilward, and Mammonward merely. Serene element of Cant has been tried now for two Centuries; and fails. Serene element, general completed life-atmosphere, of Cant religious, Cant moral,

live in a serene soft-spoken manner, - England now finds herself on the point of choking there; large masses of her People no longer able to get even potatoes in that serene element. England will have to come out of that; England, too terribly awakened at last, is everywhere preparing to come out of that. England, her Amazon-eyes once more flashing strange Heaven's - light, like Phoebus Apollo's fatal to the Pythian mud-serpents, will lift her hand, I think, and her heart, and swear“By the Eternal, I will not die in that! I had once men who knew better than that!" -

But with regard to the History of Oliver, as we were saying,

* Thurloe's Slate-Papers, Milton's, Clarendon's, Ormond's, Sidney's, &c. &c. are old and very watery; new and still waterier are Vaughan's Protectorale, and others not even worth naming here.

for those Nineteen months there is almost no light to be communicated at present. Of Oliver's own uttering, I have found only Five Letters, short, insignificant, connected with no phasis of Public Transactions: there are Two Dialogues recorded by Whitlocke, of dubious authenticity; certain small splinters of Occurrences not pointing very decisively anywhither, sprinkling like dust of stars the dark vacancy: these, and Dryasdust's vociferous commentaries new and old; -- and of discovered or discoverable, nothing more. Oliver's own Speech, which the reader is by and by to hear, casts backwards some straggling gleams; well accordant, as is usual, with whatever else we know; and worthy to be well believed and meditated, by Historical readers, among others. Out of these poor elements the candid imagination must endeavour to shape some not inconceivable scheme and genesis of this very indubitable Fact, the Dismissal of the Long Parliament, as best it may. Perhaps if Dryasdust were once well gagged, and his vociferous commentaries all well forgotten, such a feat might not be very impossible for mankind! —

Concerning this Residue, Fag-end, or "Rump” as it had now got nicknamed, of the Long Parliament, into whose hands the Government of England had been put, we have hitherto, ever since the King's Death-Warrant, said almost nothing: and in fact there was not much to be said. “Statesmen of the Commonwealth” so called: there wanted not among them men of real mark; brave men, of much talent, of true resolution, and nobleness of aim: but though their title was chief in this Commonwealth, all men may see their real function in it has been subaltern all along. Not in St. Stephen's and its votings and debatings, but in the battle-field, in Oliver Cromwell's fightings, has the destiny of this Commonwealth decided itself. One unsuccessful Battle, at Preston or at any time since, had probably wrecked it; one stray bullet hitting the life of a certain man had soon ended this Commonwealth. Parliament, Council of State, they sat like diligent Committees of Ways and Means, in a very wise and provident manner: but the soul of the Commonwealth was at Dunbar, at Worcester, at Tredah: Destiny, there questioned, "Life or Death for this Commonwealth ?” has answered, “Life yet for a time!" - That is a fact which the candid imagination will have to keep steadily in view.

And now if we practically ask ourselves, What is to become of this small junto of men, somewhat above a Hundred in all, * hardly above Half-a-hundred the active part of them, who now sit in the chair of authority? the shaping-out of any answer will give rise to considerations. These men have been raised thither by miraculous interpositions of Providence; they may be said to sit there only by a continuance of the like. They cannot sit there forever. They are not Kings by birth, these men; nor in any of them have I discovered qualities as of a very indisputable King by attainment. Of dull Bulstrode, with his lumbering law-pedantries, and stagnant official self-satisfactions, I do not speak; nor of dusky tough St. John, whose abstruse fanaticisms, crabbed logics, and dark ambitions, issue all, as was very natural, in “decided avarice" at last: — not of these. Harry Marten is a tight little fellow, though of somewhat loose life: his witty words pierce yet, as light-arrows, through the thick oblivious torpor of the generations; testifying to us very clearly, Here was a right hard-headed, stout-hearted little man, full of sharp fire and cheerful light; sworn foe of Cant in all its figures, an indomitable little Roman Pagan if no better: but Harry is not quite one's King either; it would have been difficult to be altogether loyal to Harry! Doubtful too, I think, whether without great effort you could have worshipped even the Younger Vane. A man of endless virtues, says Dryasdust, who is much taken with him, and of endless intellect; - but you must not very specially ask, How or Where? Vane was the Friend of Milton: that is almost the only answer that can now be given. A man, one rather finds, of light fibre, this Sir Harry Vane. Grant all manner of purity and elevation; subtle high discourse; much intellectual and practical dexterity: there is an amiable, devoutly zealous, very pretty man; but not a royal man; alas, no! On the whole rather a thin man. Whom it is even important to keep strictly subaltern. Whose tendency towards the Abstract, or TemporaryTheoretic, is irresistible; whose hold of the Concrete, in which lies always the Perennial, is by no means that of a giant, or born Practical King; — whose "astonishing subtlety of intellect” conducts him not to new clearness, but to ever new abstruseness, wheel within wheel, depth under depth; marvellous temporary empire of the air, — wholly vanished now, and without meaning to any mortal. My erudite friend, the astonishing intellect that occupies itself in splitting hairs, and not in twisting some kind of cordage and effectual draught-tackle to take the road with, is not to me the most astonishing of intellects! And if, as is probable, it get into narrow fanaticisms; become irrecognisant of the Perennial because not dressed in the fashionable Temporary; become self-secluded, atrabiliar, and perhaps shrill-voiced and spasmodic, - what can you do but get away from it, with a prayer, “The Lord deliver me from thee!” I cannot do with thee. I want twisted cordage, steady pulling, and a peaceable bass tone of voice: not split hairs, hysterical spasmodics, and treble! Thou amiable, subtle, elevated individual, the Lord deliver me from thee!

* One notices division-numbers as high as 121, and occasionally lower than even 40. Godwin (iii. 121), “by careful scrutiny of the Journals," has found that the utmost number of all that had still the right to come, “could not be less than 150."

These men cannot continue Kings forever; nor in fact did they in the least design such a thing; only they find a terrible difficulty in getting abdicated. Difficulty very conceivable to us. Some weeks after Pride's Purge, which may be called the constituting of this remnant of members into a Parliament and Authority, there had been presented to it, by Fairfax and the Army, what we should now call a Bentham-Sieyes Constitution, what was then called an “Agreement of the People,"* which might well be imperative on honourable members sitting there; whereby it was stipulated for one

* Commons Journals, 20th January 1648-9: some six weeks after the Purge; ten days before the King's Death.

thing, That this present Parliament should dissolve itself, and give place to another equal Representative of the People," - in some three months hence; on the 30th of April, namely. The last day of April 1649: this Parliament was

another. Such was our hope.

They did accordingly pass a vote to that effect; fully intending to fulfil the same: but, alas, it was found impossible. How summon a new Parliament, while the Commonwealth is still fighting for its existence? All we can do is to resolve ourselves into Grand Committee, and consider about it. After much consideration, all we can decide is, That we shall go weekly into Grand Committee, and consider farther. Duly every Wednesday we consider, for the space of eleven months and odd; find, more and more, that it is a thing of some considerableness! In brief, when my Lord General returns to us from Worcester, on the 16th of September 1651, no advance whatever towards a dissolution of ourselves has yet been made. The Wednesday Grand Committees had become a thing like the meeting of Roman augurs, difficult to go through with complete gravity; and so, after the eleventh month, have silently fallen into desuetude. We sit here very immovable. We are scornfully called the Rump of a Parliament by certain people: but we have an invincible Oliver to fight for us: we can afford to wait here, and consider to all


I have only to add at present, that on the morrow of my Lord General's reappearance in Parliament, this sleeping question was resuscitated;* new activity infused into it; some show of progress made; nay, at the end of three months, after much labour and struggle, it was got decided, by a neckand-neck division , ** That the present is a fit time for fixing a limit beyond which this Parliament shall not sit. Fix a limit

* Commons Journals, 17th September 1651.

** 49 to 47; Commons Journals, 14th November 1651: “Lord General and Lord Chief Justice, Cromwell and St. John, are Tellers for the Yea.

« PreviousContinue »