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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.'
“The officers he had left were still sitting together when Cromwell reappeared, flushed and excited as they had always seen him after victory, and, flinging on the table before them the key of the House of Commons, (the “bauble' had been tossed into the outer room,) told them all that he had done. “When I went there,' he added, “I did not think to have done this. But perceiving the Spirit of God so strong upon me, I would not consult flesh and blood.'”
Whether in that moment perished the rights which had been purchased by twelve years of the miseries of civil war, admits of very decided question. Much stress is laid on the incorruptible integrity of Vane; but it was not integrity or incorruptibility alone that was needed at such a crisis. It was the ability to govern—a pilot who was not only honestly desirous of guiding the good ship through the breakers, but who was well able so to do. The first French revolution affords an ever-memorable example of such a crisis becoming inevitable, and yet waiting in vain for a leader to direct the movement. Our own poet Wordsworth, comparing the English patriots of the seventeenth century with the foremost Frenchmen of that time, exultingly exclaims :
Great men have been among us; hands that penned
No single volume paramount, no code,
But equally a want of books and men ! The comparison is well merited. Guizot, with the natural partiality of a Frenchman, considers that, previous to the French Revolution, that of England was the greatest event which the annals of Europe had to narrate. Since then, and even while we are writing, he himself has become the victim of a third Revolution, which has driven Louis Philippe from the throne of France, and proscribed the ministry that acted under that historian's leadership. Possibly he now regards the Revolutions of France in a less flattering light. It is worthy of notice, however, that the very term incorruptible, which so fitly applies to "the most spotless statesman," Sir Harry Vane, is that by which the Frenchman, Robespierre, is most usually described ;no master-spirit, as history has long since decided.
Cromwell alone proved himself the master-spirit of his age, who, with clear-sighted genius, looked beyond the outward forms, and discerned the spirit of those things for which they had been striving. To set up in opposition to his practical sagacity the mere honesty of his opponents is to waive the whole point in question. The fifth-monarchy men, who anticipated a reign of saints, and immediate millennium, were fully as honest as the most zealous advocates of classic republicanism; and pretty work both of them made of it, so soon as no Cromwell remained to guide their course. The accusations of dishonesty and hypocrisy have so long stood in contact with Cromwell's name, that it will require more than ordinary clearness in the evidence ere many be disabused in the belief. Yet to those who study it, Cromwell will be found to have spoken out his intentions very clearly all along. Even in the meeting already described, which took place in the Speaker's house on the 10th December, to an unprejudiced reader, he must appear to have revealed his
little circumlocution or concealment. Still more so is his candour apparent in the following instances; in which, however, Forster only discovers evidence of his fierce contempt for the popular pretences on which he had first trusted. Henry Nevile, a virtuous and exemplary man, thus described a scene which preceded the dismissal of the parliament.*
* “. Cromwell upon this great occasion, sent for some of the chief city divines, as if he made it a matter of conscience to be determined by their advice. Among these was the leading Mr. Calamy, who very boldly opposed Mr. Cromwell's project, and offered to prove it both unlawful and impracticable. Cromwell answered readily upon the first head of unlawful, and appealed to the safety of the nation being the supreme law.
But,' says he, 'pray Mr. Calamy, why impracticable ?' Calamy replied, “Oh! 'tis against the voice of the nation, there will be nine in ten against you.' 'Very well,' says Cromwell, “ but what if I should disarm the nine, and put d sword into the tenth man's hand, would not that do the business. The next scene, with the same moral, took place on a different theatre, with actors somewhat diffe. rent, and is told by an anti-republican of uncompromising fierceness. • The next scene of this applauded comedy,' he writes, so characterizing a tragedy, fraught with the lives of thousands of living men, and with the liberties of unborn millions, 'was laid at the cockpit, by Whitehall, where Cromwell, concealing the number of the beast in his apocalypse, declared to his council of officers, 'that, if they should trust the people in an election of a new parliament, according to the old constitution, it would be a tempting of God; and that his confidence was, that God did intend to save and deliver this nation by few, as he had done in former times ; and that five or six men and some few more, setting themselves to the work, might do more in one day than the parliament had or would do in a hundred, as far as he could perceive; and that such unbiassed men were like to be the only instruments of the people's happiness.'”
* Forster's Life of Cromwell, vol. ii. p. 52.
All this seems not only characterized by candour, but what is of equal moment to the present argument, by sound reasoning. The majority of the parliament plainly anticipated that, could they get the bill passed, they would thereby give the force of law to their own schemes, and stamp them with a peculiar sacredness, as the firstfruits of the revolution. By it too, their own continuance as a part of the new body was secured, and even, as it appears, their control over the admission of their colleagues. It seems evident, moreover, that they were garbling even the defective measure they professed to have in hand mangling and dismembering it in a way worthy of Charles himself. This charge Cromwell brought against them in his address to the first Assembly, and in the presence of many whose silence attested its accuracy. “ They told us they would take time for the consideration of these things till to-morrow; they would sleep upon them, and consult some friends ; though, as I said, there were about twenty-three of them here, and not above fifty-three in the House. And at parting, two or three of the chief of them, one of the chief, and two or three more, did tell us, that they would endeavour to suspend farther proceedings about their bill for a new representative until they had another conference with us. And upon this we had great satisfaction, and had hope, if our expedient could receive a loving debate, that the next day we should have some such issue thereof as would give satisfaction to all. And herewith they went away, it being late at night. The next morning, we considering how to order what we had farther to offer to them in the evening, word was brought us that the House was proceeding with all speed upon the new representative! We could not believe it, that such persons would be so unworthy; we remained there, till a second and a third messenger came with tidings that the House was really upon that business, and had brought it near to the issue, and with that height as was never before exercised; leaving out all things relating to the due exercise of the qualifications, (which had appeared all along in it till now ;) and meaning, as we heard, to pass it only on paper, without engrossing, for the quicker despatch of it.—Thus, as we apprehend, would the liberties of the nation have been thrown away into the hands of those who had never fought for it. And upon this we thought it our duty not to suffer it : and upon this the House was dissolved, even when the Speaker was going to put the last question."*
It was, in fact, such a crisis as occurs in every revolution, wherein the end justifies the means, and the characterizing of the deed, as patriotic bravery, or infamous rebellion, depends very much on its success or failure. Cromwell is spoken of by nearly every one of his defamers as having broken down the palladium of English liberty, in the dismission of the long parliament. He was only making such another innovation as had been sanctioned by itself repeatedly, and has been approved of by the most cautious historians. Great revolutions, indeed, must be judged of by their fruits; they are for the future more than for the time of their birth, and could they who enter upon them know all the fiery struggle they must endure, and how little of its fruits they shall reap, their maynanimity would be almost superhuman, if they persevered. In 1641, this parliament declared its sittings permanent ; enacting, that it should not be adjourned without the consent of the two Houses. In 1642 they issued their famous “ Ordinance for the Militia,” resolute, in spite of consti: tutional forms, to levy war against King, or any one else who resisted them. In 1643, they made solemn league with the Scots, an act involving every legal formula of
* Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, vol. ii. p. 201.