Copyright
John Morley.

Oliver Cromwell online

. (page 4 of 35)
Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 4 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


came the rekictance of the pious and devoted George
Herbert to take orders. This can hardly have been
the influence of a mean and cruel bigot. Jeremy Tay-
lor, whose "Liberty of Prophesying" is one of the
landmarks in the history of toleration, was the client
and disciple of Laud. His personal kindness to Chill-
ingworth and to John Hales has been taken as a proof
of his tolerance of latitudinarianism, and some pas-
sages in his own works are construed as favoring lib-
eral theology. That liberal theology would have quickly
progressed within the church under Laud's rule, so
long as outer uniformity was preserved, is probably
true, and an important truth in judging the events of
his epoch. At the same time Laud was as hostile as
most contemporary Puritans to doubts and curious
search, just as he shared with his Presbyterian enemies
their hatred of any toleration for creed or church out-
side of the established fold. He was fond of learning
and gave it munificent support, and he had the merit of
doing what he could to found his cause upon reason.
But men cannot throw off the spirit of their station,
and after all his sheet-anchor was authority. His
ideal has been described as a national church, governed
by an aristocracy of bishops, invested with certain
powers by divine right, and closely united with the
monarchy. Whether his object was primarily doc-
trinal, to cast out the Calvinistic spirit, or the restor-
ation of church ceremonial, it would be hard to decide;
but we may be sure that if he actively hated heresies
about justification or predestination, it was rather as
breaches of order than as either errors of intellect or
corruptions of soul.

"He had few vulgar or private vices," says a con-



THE STATE AND ITS LEADERS 39

temporary, "and, in a word, was not so much to be
called bad as unfit for the state of England." He was
unfit for the state of England, because, instead of meet-
ing a deep spiritual movement with a missionary in-
spiration of his own, he sought no saintlier weapons
than oppressive statutes and persecuting law-courts.
It may be at least partially true that the nation had
been a consenting party to the Tudor despotism, from
which both statute and court had come down. Per-
secution has often won in human history; often has a
violent hand dashed out the lamp of truth. But the
Puritan exodus to New England was a signal, and no
statesman ought to have misread it, that new forces
were arising and would require far sharper persecution
to crush them than the temper of the nation was likely
to endure.

In the early stages of. the struggle between Parlia-
ment and king, the only leader on the popular side on
a level in position with Strafford and Laud was John
Pym, in many ways the foremost of all our Parlia-
mentary worthies. A gentleman of good family and
bred at Oxford, he had entered the House of Com-
mons eleven years before the accession of Charles.
He made his mark early as one who understood the
public finances, and, what was even more to the point,
as a determined enemy of popery. From the first, in
the words of Clarendon, he had drawn attention for
being concerned and passionate in the jealousies of re-
ligion, and much troubled with the countenance given
to the opinions of Arminius. He was a Puritan in the
widest sense of that word of many shades. That is
to say, in the expression of one who came later, "he
thought it part of a man's religion to see that his coun-
try be well governed," and by good government he
meant the rule of righteousness both in civil and in



40 OLIVER CROMWELL

sacred things. He wished the monarchy to stand, and
the Church of England to stand; nor was any man
better grounded in the maxims and precedents that
had brought each of those exaUed institutions to be
what it was.

Besides massive breadth of judgment. Pym had one
of those himinous and discerning minds that have the
rare secret in times of high contention of singhng out
the central issues and choosing the best battle-ground.
Early he perceived and understood the common im-
pulse that was uniting throne and altar against both
ancient rights and the social needs of a new epoch. He
was no revolutionist either by temper or principle. A
single passage from one of his speeches is enough to
show us the spirit of his statesmanship, and it is well
worth quoting. "The best form of government," he
said, "is that which doth actuate and dispose eVery part
and member of a state to the common good; for as
those parts give strength and ornament to the whole,
so they receive from it again strength and protection
in their several stations and degrees. If. instead of
concord and interchange of support, one part seeks to
uphold an old form of government, and the other part
introduce a new, they will miserably consume one an-
other. Histories are full of the calamities of entire
estates and nations in such cases. It is. nevertheless,
equally true that time must needs bring about some
alterations. . . . Therefore have those common-
wealths been ever the most durable and perpetual
which have often reformed and recomposed themselves
according to their first institution and ordinance. By
this means they repair the breaches, and counterwork
the ordinary and natural effects of time."

This was the English temper at its best. Sur-
rounded by men who were often apt to take narrow



THE STATE AND ITS LEADERS 41

views, Pym, if ever English statesman did, took broad
ones ; and to impose broad views upon the narrow is
one of the things that a party leader exists for. He
had the double gift, so rare even among leaders in
popular assemblies, of being at once practical and ele-
vated ; a master of tactics and organizing arts, and yet
the inspirer of solid and lofty principles. How can
we measure the perversity of a king and counselors
who forced into opposition a man so imbued with the
deep instinct of government, so whole-hearted, so keen
of sight, so skilful in resource as Pym.



CHAPTER III



PURITANISM AND THE DOUBLE ISSUE



UNIVERSAL history has been truly said to make
a large part of every national history. The lamp
that lights the path of a single nation, receives its
kindling flame from a central line of beacon-fires that
mark the onward journey of the race. The English
have never been less insular in thought and interest
than they were in the seventeenth century. About the
time when Calvin died (1564) it seemed as if the
spiritual empire of Rome would be confined to the two
peninsulas of Italy and Spain. North of the Alps
and north of the Pyrenees the Reformation appeared to
be steadily sweeping all before it. Then the floods
turned back ; the power of the papacy revived, its
moral ascendancy was restored ; the Counter- Reforma-
tion or the Catholic reaction by the time when Crom-
well and Charles came into the world, had achieved
startling triumphs. The indomitable activity of the
Jesuits had converted opinion, and the arm of flesh
lent its aid in the holy task of reconquering Christen-
dom. What the arm of flesh meant the English could
see with the visual eye. They never forgot Mary
Tudor and the Protestant martyrs. In 1567 Alva set
up his court of blood in the Netherlands. In 1572 the
42



PURITANISM AND THE STATE 43

pious work in France began with the massacre of St.
Bartholomew. In 1588 the Armada appeared in the
British Channel for the subjugation and conversion of
England. In 1605 Guy Fawkes and his powder-bar-
rels were found in the vault under the House of Lords.
These were the things that explain that endless angry
refrain against popery, that rings through our seven-
teenth century with a dolorous monotony at which
modern indifference may smile and reason and toler-
ance may groan.

Britain and Holland were the two Protestant strong-
holds, and it was noticed that the Catholics in Holland
were daily multiplying into an element of exceeding
strength, while in England, though the Catholics had
undoubtedly fallen to something very considerably less
than the third of the whole population, which was their
proportion in the time of Elizabeth, still they began
under James and Charles to increase again. People
counted with horror in Charles's day some ninety
Catholics in places of trust about the court, and over
one hundred and ninety of them enjoying property and
position in the English counties. What filled England
with dismay filled the pertinacious Pope Urban VIII
with the hope of recovering here some of the ground
that he had lost elsewhere, and he sent over first Pan-
zani, then Cuneo, then Rossetti, to work for the recon-*
quest to Catholicism of the nation whom another pope
a thousand years before had first brought within the
Christian fold. The presence of the Roman agents at
Whitehall only made English Protestantism more vio-
lently restive. A furious struggle was raging on the
continent of Europe. The Thirty Years' War (1618-
1648) was not in all its many phases a contest of Pro-
testant and Catholic, but that tremendous issue was
never remote or extinct ; and even apart from the im-



44 OLIVER CROMWELL

portant circumstance that the Elector Palatine had es-
poused the daughter of James I, its fluctuations kept
up a strong and constant under-current of feeling and
attention in England.



"The greatest liberty of our kingdom is religion," said
Pym, and Cromwell's place in history is due to the
breadth with which he underwent this mastering im-
pression of the time, and associated in his own person
the double conditions, political and moral, of national
advance. Though the conditions were twofold, relig-
ion strikes the key-note. Like other movements, the
course of the Reformation followed the inborn differ-
ences of human temperament, and in due time divided
itself into a right wing and a left. Passion and logic,
the two great working elements of revolutionary
change, often over-hot the one, and narrow and sophis-
ticated the other, carry men along at different rates
according to their natural composition, and drop them
at different stages. Most go to fierce extremes; few
hold on in the "quiet flow of truths that soften hatred,
temper strife" ; and for these chosen spirits there is no
place in the hour of conflagration. In England the
left wing of Protestantism was Puritanism, and Puri-
tanism in its turn threw out an extreme left with a
hundred branches of its own. The history of Crom-
well almost exactly covers this development from the
steady-going doctrinal Puritanism that he found pre-
vailing when he first emerged upon the public scene,
down to the faiths of the hundred and seventy enthusi-
astic sects whom he still left preaching and praying
and warring behind him when his day was over.
In this long process, so extensive and so compli-



PURITANISM AND THE STATE 45

cated, — an inter-related evolution of doctrine, disci-
pline, manners, ritual, church polity, all closely linked
with corresponding changes in affairs of civil govern-
ment, — it is not easy to select a leading clue through
the labyrinth. It is not easy to disentangle the double
plot in church and state, nor to fix in a single formula
that wide twofold impulse, religious and political,
under which Cromwell's age and Cromwell the man
of his age, marched toward their own ideals of purified
life and higher citizenship. It is enough here to say in
a word that in the Cromwellian period, when the fer-
ment at once so subtle and so tumultuous had begun
to clear, it was found that, though by no direct and far-
sighted counsel of Cromwell's own, two fertile princi-
ples had struggled into recognized life upon English
soil — the principle of Toleration, and the principle of
free or voluntary churches. These might both of them
have seemed to be of the very essence of the Reforma-
tion, but as everybody knows Free Inquiry and Free
Conscience, the twin pillars of Protestantism in its fun-
damental theory, were in practise hidden out of sight and
memory, and as we shall see even Cromwell and his
Independents shrank from the full acceptance of their
own doctrines. The advance from the early to the
later phases of Puritanism was not rapid. Heated as
the effervescence was, its solid products were slow to
disengage themselves. Only by steps did the new
principles of Toleration and the Free Church find a
place even in the two most capacious understandings
of the time — in the majestic reason of Milton and the
vigorous and penetrating practical perceptions of
Cromwell.

Puritanism meanwhile profited by the common ten-
dency among men of all times to set down whatever
goes amiss to something wrong in government. It is



46 OLIVER CROMWELL

in vain for the most part that sage observers Hke
Hooker try to persuade us that "these stains and blem-
ishes, springing from the root of human frailty and
corruption, will remain until the end of the world,
what form of government soever take place." Man-
kind is by nature too restless, too readily indignant,
too hopeful, too credulous of the unknown, ever to ac-
quiesce in this. But the English Revolution of the
seventeenth century was no mere ordinary case of a
political opposition. The Puritans of the Cromwellian
time were forced into a brave and energetic conflict
against misgovernment in church and state. But it
is to the honor of Puritanism in all its phases that it
strove with unending constancy, by the same effort to
pierce inward to those very roots of "human frailty
and corruption" which are always the true cause of
the worst mischiefs of an unregenerate world. Puri-
tanism came from the deeps. It was, like Stoicism,
Monasticism, Jansenism, even Mohammedanism, a
manifestation of elements in human nature that are
indestructible. It flowed from yearnings that make
themselves felt in Eastern world and Western; it
sprang from aspirations that breathe in men and
women of many communions and faiths ; it arose in
instincts that seldom conquer for more than a brief sea-
son, and yet are never crushed. An ascetic and un-
worldly way of thinking about life, a rigorous moral
strictness, the subjugation of sense and appetite, a cold-
ness to every element in worship and ordinance exter-
nal to the believer's own soul, a dogma unyielding as
cast-iron — all these things satisfy moods and sensibil-
ities in man that are often silent and fleeting, are easily
drowned in reaction, but are readily responsive to the
awakening voice.

History, as Dollinger has said, is no simple game



PURITANISM AND THE STATE 47

of abstractions; men are more than doctrines. It is
not a certain theory of grace that makes the Reforma-
tion; it is Luther, it is Calvin. Calvin shaped the
mold in which the bronze of Puritanism was cast.
That commanding figure, of such vast power yet some-
how with so little luster, by his unbending will, his
pride, his severity, his French spirit of system, his gift
for government, for legislation, for dialectic in every
field, his incomparable industry and persistence, had
conquered a more than pontifical ascendancy in the
Protestant world. He meets us in England, as in
Scotland, Holland, France, Switzerland, and the rising
England across the Atlantic. He was dead (1564) a
generation before Cromwell was born, but his influence
was still at its height. Nothing less than to create in
man a new nature was his far-reaching aim, to regen-
erate character, to simplify and consolidate religious
faith. Men take a narrow view of Calvin when they
think of him only as the preacher of justification by
faith, and the foe of sacerdotal mediation. His scheme
comprehended a doctrine that went to the very root of
man's relations with the scheme of universal things ; a
church order as closely compacted as that of Rome; a
system of moral discipline as concise and as imperative
as the code of Napoleon. He built it all upon a certain
theory of the government of the universe, which by
his agency has exerted an amazing influence upon the
world. It is a theory that might have been expected
to sink men crouching and paralyzed into the blackest
abysses of despair, and it has in fact been answerable
for much anguish in many a human heart. Still Cal-
vinism has proved itself a famous soil for rearing
heroic natures. Founded on St. Paul and on Augustine,
it was in two or three centuries this : — Before the
foundations of the world were laid, it was decreed by



48 OLIVER CROMWELL

counsel secret to us that some should be chosen out of
mankind to everlasting salvation, and others to curse
and damnation. In the figure of the memorable pas-
sage of the Epistle to the Romans, as the potter has
power over the clay, so men are fashioned by ante-
mundane will, some to be vessels of honor and of
mercy, others to be vessels of dishonor and of wrath.
Then the Potter has mercy on whom he will have
mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. On this black
granite of Fate, Predestination, and Foreknowledge
absolute, the strongest of the Protestant fortresses all
over the world were founded. Well might it have
been anticipated that fatalism as unflinching as this
would have driven men headlong into "desperation
and wretchlessness of most unclean living." Yet that
was no more the actual effect of the fatalism of St.
Paul, Augustine, and Calvin than it was of the fatal-
ism of the Stoics or of Mohammed. On the contrary,
Calvinism exalted its votaries to a pitch of heroic
moral energy that has never been surpassed ; and men
who were bound to suppose themselves moving in
chains inexorably riveted, along a track ordained by a
despotic and unseen Will before time began, have yet
exhibited an active courage, a resolute endurance, a
cheerful self-restraint, an exulting self-sacrifice, that
men count among the highest glories of the human
conscience.

It is interesting to think what is the secret of this
strange effect of the doctrine of fatality; for that was
the doctrine over which Cromwell brooded in his hours
of spiritual gloom, and on which he nourished his for-
titude in days of fierce duress, of endless traverses and
toils. Is it, as some have said, that people embraced a
rigorous doctrine because they were themselves by na-
ture austere, absolute, stiff, just rather than merciful?




From the portrait at Hinchinbrnuk, by Stone, after Van Dyck,
by permission of the Earl of Sandwich.

■WILLIAM LAUD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBIRV.



PURITANISM AND THE STATE 49

Is it, in other words, character that fixes creed,
or creed that fashions character? Or is there a brac-
ing and an exalting effect in the unrewarded morality
of Calvinism ; in the doctrine that good works done in
view of future recompense have no merit ; in that obe-
dience to duty for its own sake which, in Calvin as in
Kant, has been called one of the noblest efforts of hu-
man conscience toward pure virtue? Or, again, is
there something invigorating and inspiring in the
thought of acting in harmony with eternal law, how-
ever grim ; of being no mere link in a chain of mechan-
ical causation, but a chosen instrument in executing
the sublime decrees of invincible power and infinite
intelligence? However we may answer all the in-
soluble practical enigmas that confronted the Calvin-
ist, just as for that matter they confront the philo-
sophic necessarian or determinist of to-day, Calvinism
was the general theory through which Cromwell
looked forth upon the world. That he ever argued it
out, or was of a turn of mind for arguing it out, we
need not suppose. Without ascending to those clouded
and frowning heights, he established himself on the
solid rock of Calvinistic faith that made their base.

Simplification is the key-word to the Reformation,
as it is to every other revolution with a moral core.
The vast fabric of belief, practice, and worship which
the hosts of popes, doctors, schoolmen, founders of
orders, the saints and sages in all their classes and
degrees, had with strong brains and devout hearts
built up in the life and imagination of so many cen-
turies, was brought back to the ideal of a single simpli-
fied relation — God, the Bible, the conscience of the in-
dividual man, and nothing more nor beyond. The
substitution of the book for the church was the essence
of the Protestant revolt, and it was the essence of

4



so OLIVER CROMWELL

Cromweirs whole intellectual being. Like "the Chris-
tian Cicero," twelve centuries before, he said : "We
who are instructed in the science of truth by the Holy
Scriptures know the beginning of the world and its
end."

CromweH's Bible was not what the Bible is to-day.
Criticism — comparative, chronological, philological,
historical — had not impaired its position as the direct
word of God, a single book, one and whole, one page
as inspired as another, one text as binding as another.
Faith in the literal construction of the word was pushed
to an excess as much resembling a true superstition or
over-belief, as anything imputed to the Catholics.
Science had set up no reign of law, nor hinted a doubt
on the probabilities of miraculous intervention. No
physical theories had dimmed faith in acts of specific
creation, the aerial perspective and vistas of time were
very primitive. Whatever happened, great or small,
was due to wrath or favor from above.. When an
organ was burned down in the new French church at
the Hague, it was an omen of the downfall of popery
and prelacy. \\'hen the foreman superintending the
building of a castle for the Queen at Bristol, fell from
a ladder and broke his neck, it was a stupendous testi-
mony against the Scarlet Woman. Tiverton by hold-
ing its market on a Monday made occasion for profan-
ing the Lord's Day, and so the town was burned to the
ground. Fishermen one Sabbath morning, the sun
shining hot upon the water, and a great company of
salmon at play, were tempted to put forth, and they
made a great draft, but God's judgment did not halt,
for never more were fish caught there, and the neigh-
boring town was half ruined. People were tormented
by no misgivings, as Ranke says, how "the secrets of
divine things could be brought into such direct con-



PURITANISM AND THE STATE 51

nection with the compHcations of human affairs."
The God to whom Cromwell in heart as in speech ap-
pealed was no stream of tendency, no super-naturalis-
tic hypothesis, no transcendental symbol or synthesis,
but the Lord of Hosts of the Old Testament. The
saints and Puritans were the chosen people. All the
denunciations of the prophets against the oppressors
of Israel were applied to the letter against bishops and
princes. And Moses and Joshua, Gideon and Barak,
Samson and Jephthah, were the antitypes of those who
now in a Christian world thought themselves called,
like those heroes of old time, to stop the mouths of
lions and turn to flight the armies of the aliens.

Cromwell is never weary of proclaiming that the
things that have come to pass have been the wonderful
works of God, breaking the rod of the oppressor.
Great place and business in the world, he says, is not
worth looking after ; he does not seek such things ; he
is called to them, and is not without assurance that the
Lord will enable his poor worm to do his will and ful-
fil his generation. The vital thing is to fear unbelief,
self-seeking, confidence in the arm of flesh, and opin-
ion of any instruments that they are other than as dry
bones. Of dogma he rarely speaks. Religion to him
is not dogma, but communion with a Being apart from
dogma. "Seek the lord and his face continually," he
writes to Richard Cromwell, his son; "let this be the
business of your life and strength, and let all things
be subservient and in order to this." To Richard
Mayor, the father of his son's wife, he says : "Truly
our work is neither from our own brains nor from our
courage and strength; but we follow the Lord who
goeth before, and gather what he scattereth, that so
all may appear to be from him." Such is ever the re-
frain, incessantly repeated, to his family, to the Parlia-



52 OLIVER CROMWELL

ment, on the homely occasions of domestic Hfe, in the
time of pubHc peril, in the day of battle, in the day of
crowning victory ; this is the spirit by which his soul is
possessed. All work is done by a divine leading. He
expresses lively indignation with the Scottish minis-
ters, because they dared to speak of the battle of Dun-
bar, that marvelous dispensation, that mighty and
strange appearance of God's, as a mere "event." So.
too. he warns the Irish that if they resist they must ex-
pect what the providence of God will cast upon them,
"in that which is falsely called the Chance of War."



Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 4 of 35)