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THE LITTLE PARLIAMENT.
BETWEEN Worcester Battle on the 3d of September, 1651, and the Dismissal of the Long Parliament on the 20th of April, 1653, are Nineteen very important months in the History of Oliver, which, in all our Books and Historical rubbish-records, lie as nearly as possible dark and vacant for us. Poor Dryasdust has emitted, and still emits, volumes of confused noise on the subject; but in the way of information or illumination, of light in regard to any fact, physiognomic feature, event or fraction of an event, as good as nothing whatever. Indeed, onwards from this point where Oliver's own Letters begin to fail us, the whole History of Oliver, and of England under him, becomes very dim ;-swimming most indistinct in the buge Tomes of Thurloe and the like, as in shoreless lakes of ditchwater and bilgewater; a stagnancy, a torpor, and confused horror to the human soul! No historical genius, not even a Rushworth's, now presides over the matter : nothing but bilgewater Correspondences ; vague jottings of a dull fat Bulstrode; vague printed babblements of this and the other Carrion Heath or Flunkey Pamphleteer of the Blessed-Restoration Period, writing from ignorant rumour and for ignorant rumour, from the winds and to the winds. After long reading in very many Books, of very unspeakable quality, earning for yourself only incredibility, inconceivability, and darkness 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 :1 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 shew it to much. wondering 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, Cant political, Cant universal, where England vainly hoped to 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 Phæbus Apollo's fatal to the Pythian
1 Thurloe's State-Papers, Milton's, Clarendon's, Ormond's, Sidney's, &c. &c. are old and very watery ; new and still waterier are Vaughan's Protectorate, and others not even worth naming here.
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, 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 be. come 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 gene
1 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.'