Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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ever were the excuses by which Cromwell justified him-
self, or his admirers justify him, let us not deny the facts.
It may have been necessary, under his circumstances, to
reign alone, by the aid of his standing army. But do
not attempt to gloss over the veritable fact that he did
reign without the support of Parliament, and in defiance
of all constitutional authorities. It was not the nation
which elevated him to supreme power, but his soldiers.
At no time would any legitimate Parliament, or any popu-
lar voice, have made him an absolute ruler. He could
not even have got a plebiscitum, as Louis Napoleon did.
He was not liked by the nation at large, not even by the
more enlightened and conservative of the Puritans, such
as the Presbyterians; and as for the Episcopalians, they
looked upon him not only as a usurper but as a hypocrite.
It is difficult to justify such an act as usurpation and
military tyranny by the standard of an immutable mor-
ality. If the overturning of all constitutional authority
bv a man who professed to be a reformer, yet who reigned
illegally as a despot, can be defended, it is only on the
principle of expediency, that the end justifies the means,
the plea of the Jesuits, and of all the despots who have
overturned constitutions and national liberties. But this
is rank and undisguised Cassarism. The question then
arises, Was it necessary that a Caesar should reign at
Hampton Court? Some people think it was; and all ad-
mit that after the execution of the King there was no
settled government, nothing but bitter, intolerant factions,
each of which wished its own ascendency, and all were
alike unscrupulous. Revolution ever creates factions and
angry parties, more or less violent. It is claimed by
many that a good government was impossible with these
various and contending parties, and that nothing but
anarchy would have existed had not Cromwell seized the
reins, and sustained himself by a standing army, and ruled


Again, others think that he was urged by a pressure
which even he could not resist, that of the army; that
he was controlled by circumstances ; that he could do no
otherwise unless he resigned England to her fate, to the
anarchy of quarrelling and angry parties, who would not
listen to reason, and who were too inexperienced to
govern in such stormy times. The Episcopalians cer-
tainly, and the Presbyterians probably, would have re-
stored Charles II, and this Cromwell regarded as a
great possible calamity. If the King had been restored,
all the fruit of the revolution would have been lost ; there
would have been a renewed reign of frivolities, insinceri-
ties, court scandals, venalities, favorites, and disguised
Romanism, yea, an alliance would have been formed
with the old tyrants of Europe.

Cromwell was no fool, and he had a great insight into
the principles on which the stability and prosperity of a
nation rested. He doubtless felt that the nation required
a strong arm at the helm, and that no one could save
England in such a storm but himself. I believe he was
sincere in this conviction, a conviction based on pro-
found knowledge of men and the circumstances of the
age. I believe he was willing to be aspersed, even by his
old friends, and heartily cursed by his enemies, if he could
guide the ship of state into a safe harbor. I am inclined
to believe that he was patriotic in his intentions ; that he
wished to save the country even, if necessary, by illegal
means ; that he believed there was a higher law for him,
and that an enlightened posterity would vindicate his
name and memory. He was not deceived as to his abili-
ties, even if he were as to his call. He knew he was the
strongest man in England, and that only the strongest
could rule. He was willing to assume the responsibility,
whatever violence he should do to his early principles, or
to the opinions of those with whom he was at first asso-
ciated. If there was anything that marked the character
of Cromwell, it was the abiding sense, from first to last, of
his personal responsibility to God Almighty, whose serv-
ant and instrument he felt himself to be. I believe he
was loyal to his conscience, if not to his cause.

He may have committed grave errors, for he was not
infallible. It may have been an error that he ruled vir-


tually without a Parliament, since it was better that a
good measure should be defeated than that the cause of
liberty should be trodden under foot. It was better that
parliaments should wrangle and quarrel than that there
should be no representation of the nation at all. And it
was an undoubted error to transmit his absolute authority
to his son, for this was establishing a new dynasty of
kings. One of the worst things which Napoleon ever did
was to seat his brothers on the old thrones of Europe.
Doubtless, Cromwell wished to perpetuate the policy of
his government, but he had no right to perpetuate a
despotism in his own family: that was an insult to the
nation and to the cause of constitutional liberty. Here
he was selfish and ambitious, for, great as he was, he was
not greater than the nation or his cause.

But I need not dwell on the blunders of Cromwell, if we
call them by no harsher name. It would be harsh to
judge him for his mistakes or sins under his peculiar cir-
cumstances, his hand in the execution of Charles I, his
Jesuitical principles, his cruelties in Ireland, his dispersion
of parliaments, and his usurpation of supreme power.
Only let us call things by their right names; we gain
nothing by glossing over defects. The historians of the
Bible tell us how Abraham told lies to the King of Egypt,
and David caused Uriah to be slain after he had appro-
priated his wife. Yet who were greater and better, upon
the whole, than these favorites of Heaven?

Cromwell earned his great fame as one of the wisest
statesmen and ablest rulers that England ever had. Like
all monarchs, he is to be judged by the services he ren-
dered to civilization. He was not a faultless man, but he
proved himself a great benefactor. Whether we like him
or not, we are compelled to admit that his administration
was able and beneficent, and that he seemed to be
actuated by a sincere desire to do all the good he could.
If he was ambitious, his ambition was directed to the
prosperity and glory of his country. If he levied taxes
without the consent of the nation, he spent the money
economically, wisely, and unselfishly. He sought no in-
glorious pomps; he built no expensive palaces; he gave
no foolish fetes ; nor did he seek to disguise his tyranny
by amusing or demoralizing the people, like the old


Roman Caesars. He would even have established a con-
stitutional monarchy, had it been practicable. The plots
of royalists tempted him to appoint major-generals to re-
sponsible situations. To protect his life, he resorted to
guards. He could not part with his power, but he used
it for the benefit of the nation.

If he did not reign by or through the people, he reigned
for the people. He established religious liberty, and tol-
erated all sects but Catholics and Quakers. The Presby-
terians were his enemies, but he never persecuted them.
He had a great regard for law, and appointed the ablest
and best men to high judicial positions. Sir Matthew
Hale, whom he made chief-justice, was the greatest law-
yer in England, an ornament to any country. Cromwell
made strenuous efforts to correct the abuses of the court
of chancery and of criminal law. He established trial by
jury for political offenses. He tried to procure the for-
mal re-admission of the Jews to England. He held con-
ferences with George Fox. He snatched Biddle, the
Socinian, from the fangs of persecutors. He fostered
commerce and developed the industrial resources of the
nation, like Burleigh and Colbert. He created a navy,
and became the father of the maritime greatness of Eng-
land. He suppressed all license among the soldiers, al-
though his power rested on their loyalty to him. He
honored learning and exalted the universities, placing in
them learned men. He secured the union between
England and Scotland, and called representatives from
Scotland to his parliaments. He adopted a generous
policy with the colonies in North America, and freed them
from rapacious governors. His war policy was not for
mere aggrandizement. He succeeded Gustavus Adol-
phus as the protector of Protestantism on the Continent.
He sought to make England respected among all the na-
tions ; and, as righteousness exalts a nation, he sought to
maintain public morality. His court was simple and
decorous ; he gave no countenance to levities and follies,
and his own private life was pure and religious, so that
there was general admiration of his conduct as well as of
his government.

Cromwell was certainly very fortunate in his regime.
The army and navy did wonders ; Blake and Monk gained


great victories ; Gibraltar was taken, one of the richest
prizes that England ever gained in war. The fleets of
Spain were destroyed ; the trade of the Indies was opened
to his ships. He maintained the " balance of power."
He punished the African pirates of the Mediterranean.
His glory reached Asia, and extended to America. So
great was his renown that the descendants of Abraham,
even on the distant plains of Asia, inquired of one another
if he were not the servant of the King of Kings, whom
they were looking for. A learned Rabbi even came from
Asia to London for the purpose of investigating his pedi-
gree, thinking to discover in him the " Lion of the tribe
of Judah." If his policy had been followed out by his
successors, Louis XIV would not have dared to revoke
the Edict of Nantes ; if he had reigned ten years longer,
there would have been no revival of Romanism.

I suppose England never had so enlightened a mon-
arch. He was more like Charlemagne than Richelieu.
Contrast him with Louis XIV, a contemporaneous
despot : Cromwell devoted all his energies to develop the
resources of his country, while Louis did what he could
to waste them ; Cromwell's reign was favorable to the
development of individual genius, but Louis was such an
intolerable egotist that at the close of his reign all the
great lights had disappeared ; Cromwell was tolerant,
Louis was persecuting; Cromwell laid the foundation of
an indefinite expansion, Louis sowed the seeds of discon-
tent and revolution. Both indeed took the sword, the
one to dethrone the Stuarts, the other to exterminate the
Protestants. Cromwell bequeathed to successors the
moral force of personal virtue, Louis paved the way for
the most disgraceful excesses ; Cromwell spent his leisure
hours with his family and with divines, Louis with his
favorites and mistresses ; Cromwell would listen to expos-
tulations, Louis crushed all who differed from him. The
career of the former was a progressive rise, that of the
latter a progressive fall. The ultimate influence of Crom-
well's policy was to develop the greatness of England;
that of Louis, to cut the sinews of national wealth, and
poison those sources of renovation which still remained.
The memory of Cromwell is dear to good men in spite of
his defects ; while that of Louis, in spite of his graces and


urbanities, is a watchword for all that is repulsive in
despotism. Hence Cromwell is more and more a favorite
with enlightened minds, while Louis is more and more re-
garded as a man who made the welfare of the State subor-
dinate to his own glory. In a word, Cromwell feared
only God ; while Louis feared only hell. The piety of the
one was lofty ; that of the other was technical, formal, and
Pharisaical. The chief defect in the character of Crom-
well was his expediency, or what I call Jesuitism, -follow-
ing out good ends by questionable means ; the chief defect
in the character of Louis was an absorbing egotism, which
sacrificed everything for private pleasure or interest.

The difficulty in judging Cromwell seems to me to be in
the imperfection of our standards of public morality. We
are apt to excuse in a ruler what we condemn in a private
man. If Oliver Cromwell is to be measured by the stand-
ard which accepts expediency as a guide in life, he will be
excused for his worst acts. If he is to be measured by an
immutable standard, he will be picked to pieces. In re-
gard to his private life, aside from cant and dissimulation,
there is not much to condemn, and there is much to
praise. He was not a libertine like Henry IV, nor an
egotist like Napoleon. He delighted in the society of
the learned and the pious; he was susceptible to grand
sentiments; he was just in his dealings and fervent in his
devotions. He was liberal, humane, simple, unostenta-
tious, and economical. He was indeed ambitious, but his
ambition was noble.

His intellectual defect was his idea of special divine
illumination, which made him visionary and rhapsodical
and conceited. He was a Second-Adventist, and believed
that Christ would return, at no distant time, to establish
the reign of the saints upon the earth. But his morals
were as irreproachable as those of Marcus Aurelius.
Like Michelangelo, he despised frivolities, though it is
said he relished rough jokes, like Abraham Lincoln. He
was conscientious in the discharge of what he regarded as
duties, and seemed to feel his responsibility to God as the
sovereign of the universe. His family revered him as
much as the nation respected him. He was not indeed
lovable, like Saint Louis ; but he can never lose the admi-
ration of mankind, since the glory of his administration



was not sullied by those private vices which destroy es-
teem and ultimately undermine both power and influence.
He was one of those world-heroes of whom nations will
be proud as they advance in the toleration of human in-
firmities, as they draw distinction between those who
live for themselves and those who live for their country,
and the recognition of those principles on which all
progress is based.

Cromwell died prematurely, if not for his fame, at least
for his usefulness. His reign as Protector lasted only
five years, yet what wonders he did in that brief period !
He suppressed the anarchies of the revolution, he revived
law, he restored learning, he developed the resources of
his country ; he made it respected at home and abroad,
and shed an imperishable glory on his administration,
but " on the threshold of success he met the inexorable

It was a stormy night, August 30, 1658, when the wild
winds were roaring and all nature was overclouded with
darkness and gloom, that the last intelligible words of the
dying hero were heard by his attendants : " O Lord !
though I am a miserable sinner, I am still in covenant
with Thee. Thou hast made me, though very unworthy,
an instrument to do Thy people good ; and go on, O Lord,
to deliver them and make Thy name glorious throughout
the world ! " These dying words are the key alike to his
character and his mission. He believed himself to be an
instrument of the Almighty Sovereign in whom he be-
lieved, and whom, with all his faults and errors, he sought
to serve, and in whom he trusted.

And it is in this light, chiefly, that the career of this
remarkable man is to be viewed. An instrument of God
he plainly was, to avenge the wrongs of an insulted, an
indignant, and an honest nation, and to impress upon the
world the necessity of wise and benignant rulers. He
arose to vindicate the majesty of public virtue, to rebuke
the egotism of selfish kings, to punish the traitors of
important trusts. He arose to point out the true sources
of national prosperity, to head off the troops of a reno-
vated Romanism, to promote liberty of conscience in all
matters of religious belief. He was raised up as a cham-
pion of Protestantism when kings were returning to


Rome, and as an awful chastiser of those bigoted and
quarrelsome Irish who have ever been hostile to law and
order, and uncontrollable by any influence but that of
fear. But, above all, he was raised up to try the experi-
ment of liberty in the Seventeenth century.

That experiment unfortunately failed. All sects and
parties sought ascendency rather than the public good;
angry and inexperienced, they refused to compromise.
Sectarianism was the true hydra that baffled the energy
of the courageous combatant. Parliaments were fac-
tious, meddlesome, and inexperienced, and sought to
block the wheels of government rather than promote
wholesome legislation. The people hankered for their
old pleasures, and were impatient of restraint ; their lead-
ers were demagogues or fanatics ; they could not be co-
erced by mild measures or appeals to enlightened reason.
Hence coercive measures were imperative; and these
could be carried only by a large standing army, ever the
terror and menace of liberty ; the greatest blot on consti-
tutional governments, a necessity, but an evil, since the
military power should be subordinate to the civil, not the
civil to the military. The iron hand by which Cromwell
was obliged to rule, if he ruled at all, at last became odi-
ous to all classes, since they had many rights which were
ignored. When they clamored for the blood of an
anointed tyrant, they did not bargain for a renewed
despotism more irksome and burdensome than the one
they had suppressed. The public rejoicings, the universal
enthusiasm, the brilliant spectacles and fetes, the flatter-
ing receptions and speeches which hailed the restoration
of Charles II, showed unmistakably that the regime of
Cromwell, though needed for a time, was unpopular, and
was not in accordance with the national aspirations. If
they were to be ruled by a tyrant, they preferred to be
ruled according to precedents and traditions and hallowed
associations. The English people loved then, as they
love now, as they ever have loved, royalty, the reign of
kings according to the principles of legitimacy. They
have shown the disposition to fetter these kings, not to
dispense with them.

So the experiment of Cromwell and his party failed.
How mournful it must have seemed to the original patri-



ots of the revolution, that hard, iron, military rule was all
that England had gained by the struggles and the blood
of her best people. Wherefore had treasures been lav-
ished in a nine years' contest; wherefore the battles of
Marston Moor and Worcester; wherefore the eloquence
of Pym and Hampden? All wasted. The house which
had been swept and garnished was re-entered by devils
worse than before.

Thus did this experiment seem ; teaching, at least, this
useful and impressive lesson, that despotism will suc-
ceed unwise and violent efforts for reform; that reforms
are not to be carried on by bayonets, but by reason ; that
reformers must be patient, and must be contented with
constitutional measures; that any violation of the immu-
table laws of justice will be visited with unlooked-for

But sad as this experiment seemed, can it be pro-
nounced to be wholly a failure? No earnest human ex-
periment is ever thrown away. The great ideas of Crom-
well, and of those who originally took up arms with him,
entered into new combinations. The spirit remained, if
the form was changed. After a temporary reaction, the
love of liberty returned. The second revolution of 1688
was the logical sequence of the first. It was only another
act in the great drama of national development. The
spirit which overthrew Charles I also overturned the
throne of James II ; but the wisdom gained by_ experi-
ence sent him into exile, instead of executing him on the
scaffold. Two experiments with those treacherous
Stuarts were necessary before the conviction became
fastened on the mind of the English people that constitu-
tional liberty could not exist while they remained upon
the throne ; and the spirit which had burst out into a
blazing flame two generations earlier, was now confined
within constitutional limits. But it was not suppressed;
it produced salutary reforms with every advancing gen-
eration. " It produced," says Macaulay, " the famous
Declaration of Rights, which guaranteed the liberties of
the English upon their present basis; which again led to
the freedom of the press, the abolition of slavery, Catho-
lic emancipation, and representative reform."

Had the experiment not been tried by Cromwell and


his party, it might have been tried by worse men, whose
gospel of rights would be found in the " social contract "
of a Rousseau, rather than in the " catechism " of the
Westminster divines. It was fortunate that revolutionary
passions should have raged in the bosoms of Christians
rather than of infidels, of men who believed in obedience
to a personal God, rather than men who teach the holi-
ness of untutored impulse, the infallibility of majorities,
and the majesty of the unaided intellect of man. And
then who can estimate the value of Cromwell's experi-
ence on the patriots of our own Revolution? His ex-
ample may even have taught the great Washington how
dangerous and inconsistent it would be to accept an
earthly crown, while denouncing the tyranny of kings,
and how much more enduring is that fame which is cher-
ished in a nation's heart than that which is blared by the
trumpet of idolatrous soldiers indifferent to those rights
which form the basis of social civilization. [Applause.]

Photogravure after a pJiotograph front lift



[Lecture by John Morley, biographer, essayist, critic, statesman (born
in Blackburn, Lancashire, England, December 24, 1838; ), de-
livered before the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution, November II,

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I am going to ask you
to-night to pass a tranquil hour with me in pondering a
quiet chapter in the history of books. There is a loud
cry in these days for clues that shall guide the plain man
through the vast bewildering labyrinth of printed books.
Everybody calls for hints what to read and what to look
out for in reading. Like all the rest of us, I have often
been asked for a list of the hundred best books, and the
other day a gentleman wrote to me to give him by return
of post that far more difficult thing a list of the three
best books in the world. Both the hundred and the three
are a task far too high for me ; but perhaps you will let
me try to indicate what, among much else, is one of the
things best worth hunting for in books, and one of the
quarters of the library where you may get on the scent.
Though tranquil, it will be my fault if you find the hour
dull, for this particular literary chapter concerns life, man-
ners, society, conduct, human nature, our aims, our ideals,
and all besides that is most animated and most interesting
in man's busy chase after happiness and wisdom.

What is wisdom? That sovereign word, as has often
been pointed out, is used for two different things. It may
stand for knowledge, learning, science, systematic reason-
ing ; or it may mean, as Coleridge has defined it, common


sense in an uncommon degree; that is to say, the unsys-
tematic truths which come to shrewd, penetrating and
observant minds, from their own experience of life, and
their daily commerce with the world, and which is called
the wisdom of life, or the wisdom of the world, or the wis-
dom of time and the ages. The Greeks had two words
for these two kinds of wisdom : one for the wise who
scale the heights of thought, and knowledge ; another for
those who without logical method, technical phraseology,
or any of the parade of the schools, whether " Academics
old and new, Cynic, Peripatetic, the sect Epicurean or
Stoic severe," held up the mirror to human nature, and
took good counsel as to the ordering of character and of

Mill, in his little fragment on Aphorisms, has said that
in the first kind of wisdom every age in which the science
flourishes ought to surpass the ages that have gone be-
fore. In knowledge and methods of science each genera-
tion starts from the point at which its predecessor left off;
but, in the wisdom of life in the maxims of good sense
applied to public and to private conduct, there is, said
Mill, a pretty nearly equal amount in all ages.

If this seem doubtful to anyone, let him think how
many of the shrewdest moralities of human nature are to
be found in writings as ancient as the apocryphal book of
the Wisdom of Solomon, and of Jesus the Son of Sirach ;

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 36 of 38)