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IN my two last lectures, I offered to your consideration the
results of such observations as had occurred to me on the great contest that subsisted between the king and parliament, prior to the breaking out of the civil war, more particularly with regard to their comparative merits and demerits.
The military transactions of the civil war that ensued, may be collected from Hume, and still more in the detail from Clarendon. In the former author will also be found a philosophic estimate of the strength and resources of the contending parties, and of their separate probabilities of success. Disquisitions of this kind, more particularly from such an author, are highly deserving of your attention. The entertainment and instruction of history can never be properly felt or understood, as I cannot too often remark, unless you meditate upon the existing circumstances of the scene; suppose them before you, and estimate the probabilities that they present; then marking the events that really take place, thus derive a sort of experience in the affairs of mankind, which may enable you to determine with greater precision and success, on occasions when you may yourselves be called upon to act a part, and when the happiness of your country and your own may, more or less, be affected by the propriety of your decisions.
Materials for such disquisitions, and such exercise of the judgment, are often supplied by Clarendon, and they constitute, indeed, one material and appropriate part of the value of all original writers of history. In original writers, the real scene is presented to you in colours more vivid and more exact.
The king seems to have been every way unfortunate. With
sufficient courage and ability to make him the proper general of his own forces, he was still not possessed of that military genius which is fitted to triumph over difficulties, which can turn to its own purposes the dispositions of men, and the opportunities and unsuspected advantages of every situation : which can seem by these means to control the decisions of chance, and to command success. That a soldier, however, of this description, should arise against him on the popular side, was to be expected ; a captain like Cromwell was sure to appear, at least to exist, in the ranks of his opponents. But that such a general as Fairfax should be found among the men of distinction in the country, and yet be opposed to his cause, this might surely be considered by the king as a hard dispensation of fortune. Still harder, if it be considered, that Fairfax was, of all other men that history presents, the most fitted for the purposes of a soldier like Cromwell : too honest to have criminal designs of his own : too magnanimous to suspect them in those around him; superior to every other in the field ; inferior in the cabinet; enthusiastic enough to be easily deceived, but not enough to be a hypocrite, and to deceive others.
The character of Cromwell seems the natural production of the times, though, it must be confessed, the most complete specimen of their influence that can well be imagined ; still, the character itself consists but of the common materials, courage, fierceness, decisive sense, clear sagacity, and strong ambition ; all, no doubt, given in a very eminent degree, added to such qualities as resulted from an age of religious dispute; and the whole nourished and drawn out in the most extraordinary manner, by the temptations and urgencies of a revolutionary period. Hampden early predicted his future eminence, on one supposition-the breaking out of a civil war.
From the moment that the sword was drawn, all wise and good men must, with Lord Falkland, have been overpowered with the most afflicting expectations. One of two alternatives, equally painful, could alone have occurred to them as probable; either that the king would conquer, and the privileges of the subject, and all future defence of them, be swept away in his triumph; or that the parliament would
prevail, and the result be, that the whole government, for want of some proper constitutional head, would fall into the disposal of the army, and be seized upon by some of its great captains, to the total degradation, and probably to the destruction of the existing monarch; perhaps even of the ancient forms of monarchy itself.
I must leave you to examine for yourselves the various events of the civil war-the military operations in the field, and the transactions in parliament—all of them very interesting. They may be found in the regular historians (particularly Clarendon), and in the accounts that have come down to us of the debates in the long parliament.
I can only make a few observations on some of the leading transactions, chiefly those of a civil nature.
Among other objects of attention, the self-denying ordinance should be noticed. On this occasion, the two parties came to issue—the Presbyterians and Independents; the one who wished for Presbytery and monarchy; the other, who had abandoned themselves to their own imaginary schemes of perfection in religion and government; most of them, probably, without any settled notions in either. Violence and enthusiasm, the great banes of all public assemblies in times of disorder, at last prevailed, and the self-denying ordinance was carried.
By this ordinance the members of both houses were ex. cluded from all the important civil and military employments. The Presbyterians, who were in power, were, by this contrirance, obliged to resign it. Yet, when the evasion of the ordinance by Cromwell is also considered, a more barefaced, political expedient cannot easily be imagined; the very idea of it, not to say the success of it, as described by Lord Clarendon, and as seen in the speeches and subsequent conduct of Cromwell, who contrived to elude it, and retain his command, are quite characteristic of this strange period of our history. It was, in truth, an expedient to clear the army from all the more moderate men who were then in command.
After the self-denying ordinance, the treaty of Uxbridge must be considered, as the next principal object of attention. The proceedings are very fully detailed by an actor in the scene, Lord Clarendon ; and as this was quite a crisis in the
contest, the question is, when the negotiation did not lead to accommodation and peace, which party was in fault? To me, I confess, the conclusion from the whole seems to be that the Presbyterians were in fault, and that they cannot be forgiven for not closing with the king immediately on the terms which he proposed, not merely from a sense of propriety and justice, but from the apprehension with which Cromwell and the Independents ought to have inspired them. It even appears, from a curious conference mentioned by Whitelocke, which was held one night at Essex House, before the selfdenying ordinance had been moved in the house, that Cromwell was already dreaded ; yet no danger, no distress could produce any reasonable effect either on the Presbyterians in parliament or on the king.
Religious considerations had unhappily interfered to make what was difficult, impossible. The king could not entirely give up Episcopacy, and the Presbyterians, with still more of theological infatuation, were determined to have their Presbytery exclusively established.
All hopes of accommodation were at an end. “ Most sober men," says Whitelocke, “lamented the sudden breach of the treaty."
The victory of Naseby followed, and the cause of the king was desperate. This is again a sort of epoch in this contest. Charles, not possessed of the genius that can sometimes make even a desperate cause at last triumphant, repaired, without speculating very long or reasonably upon the consequences, to the Scotch army.
The Scotch army could discover in their new situation no better course to pursue than at all events to make the king a means of procuring their arrears from the English parliament, and to barter the person of their sovereign for the money that was due to them.
It might have been thought that a common question of account might have been settled by the godly (so they termed themselves) on each side of the Tweed on the usual principles of arithmetic and honesty-certainly without so unusual a transfer as the person of their monarch ; but not so: it was in this manner,
it seems, that the differences between the two parties could best be adjusted. The bargain was settled,
the king delivered up, and the Scotch retired to their own country.
Their posterity have ever since been ashamed of this coarse and disgraceful transaction, for after every explanation of it, such it is; and if the English were ashamed also, they would do themselves no injustice.
From this period we must be occupied in observing the mistakes and faults of the king and the Presbyterians, on the one side; the guilt of Cromwell and the Independents on the other.
In the first place, we must cast our eyes on the conduct of
The scene that by reasonable men must have been long expected, now opened. The army, having no enemy to contend with in the field, began, under the direction of Cromwell, to control the parliament, the Presbyterians.
The proceedings of an armed body of men like this, on such an occasion, are unhappily but too deserving of our very particular observation.
But the conduct of the Presbyterians, and of those in the house who meant well, continued as injudicious as ever.
The soldiers had real causes of complaint, and the parliament made the usual mistake of all regular assemblies, when dealing with irregular combinations of men; they did not take care, in the first place, to do them justice; they did not take care (as soon as possible) to put themselves entirely in the right; they were, as usual, too proud to be wise; they therefore, no doubt, gave Cromwell and those who meant ill every advantage.
They even committed other mistakes still more unpardonable, by sending down to the army Cromwell and the very incendiaries themselves to compose differences.
When the parliament became more reasonable and just, it was, as is usually the case, too late.
And now was the season when the king was to commit his political mistakes.
While he was in fact at the disposal and in the hands of the army, he had to deal with the parliament and the Presbyterian faction and the Scotch Covenanters, as one party; with the army and Independents, as another.