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OLIVER CROMWELL (1599-1658)
THE LORD PROTECTOR OF ENGLAND
HE story of Cromwell's life is too well known to need any record T here, where we have to do with him in the one aspect of orator. For this rôle the great soldier was not well equipped by nature. He was much better adapted to face an army in the field than an audience from the rostrum. Carlyle says that his speeches “excel human belief in their unlikeness to all other speeches, in their utter disregard of all standards of oratory and logical sequence of thought. . . . But the time was when they had as much weight in England as the most polished orations of Demosthenes in Athens.” But as this might come less from the character of the speeches than from the position of the speaker we must suffice ourselves with a brief example of his style.
THE KINGLY TITLE
[We quote from Cromwell's speech in 1657 before the Committee of Ninetynine, at Whitehall. It is characteristic in its careful avoidance of sentiments that would commit him to a fixed conclusion. As in the older case of Caesar, the Puritan conqueror was offered the title of king. Some of his reasons for refusing it are here indicated. He declined less from his own inclination, than from the hostility to the name of king among the Puritan soldiery.]
I will now say something for myself. As for my own mind, I do profess it, I am not a man scrupulous about words, or names, or such things. I have not hitherto clear direction, but as I have the Word of God, and I hope I shall ever have, for the rule of my conscience, for my information and direction, so truly, if men have been led into dark paths through the providence and dispensations of God—why surely it is not to be objected to a man. For who can love to walk in the dark 2 But Providence doth often so dispose, and though a man may impute his own folly and blindness to Providence sinfully, yet this must be at a man's own peril. The
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case may be that it is the providence of God that doth lead men in darkness. I must needs say I have had a great deal of experience of providence; and though such experience is no rule without or against the Word, yet it is a very good expounder of the Word in many cases. Truly the providence of God has laid aside this title of king providentially de facto ; and that not by sudden humor or passion; but it hath been by issue of as great deliberation as ever was in a nation. It hath been by issue of ten or twelve years' civil war, wherein much blood hath been shed. I will not dispute the justice of it when it was done, nor need I tell you what my opinion was in the case were it de novo to be done. But if it is at all disputable, and a man come and find that God in His severity hath not only eradicated a whole family, and thrust them out of the land, for reasons best known to Himself, but also hath made the issue and close of that to be the very eradication of a name and title—l Which de facto is the case. It was not done by me, nor by them that tendered me the government I now act in ; it was done by the Long Parliament, that was it. And God hath seemed providential, not only in striking at the family, but at the name. And, as I said before, it is blotted out; it is a thing cast out by an Act of Parliament; it hath been kept out to this day. And as Jude saith in another case, speaking of abominable sins that should be in the latter times, he doth further say, when he comes to exhort the saints, he tells them they should “hate even the garments spotted with the flesh.” I beseech you think not I bring this as an argument to prove anything. God hath seemed so to deal with the person and the family that He blasted the very title. And you know when a man comes, a parte post, to reflect, and see this done, this title laid in the dust,--I confess I can come to no other conclusion. The like of this may make a strong impression upon such weak men as I am ;—and perhaps upon weaker men, if there be any such, it will make a stronger. I will not seek to set up that which Providence hath destroyed and laid in the dust; I would not build Jericho again. . . . . I have now no more to say. The truth is, I did indicate this to you as my conclusion at the first, when I told you what method I would speak to you in. I may say I cannot, with conveniency to myself, nor good to this service which I wish so well to, speak out all my arguments as to the safety of your proposal, as to its tendency to the effectual carrying out of this work. I say I do not think it fit to use all the thoughts I have in my mind as to that point of safety. But I shall pray to God Almighty that He will direct you to do what is according to His will. And this is the poor account I am able to give of myself in this thing.
THE ORATOR OF WIT AND SARCASM
field, in his time and season, posing at once as wit, orator, and author, and for a long time serving as an active member of Parliament and Cabinet official. He sat in the House of Commons from 1716 to 1726, when he was given his title and promoted to the House of Lords. He entered the Pelham Cabinet in 1744, and retired from public life in 1748. Two things have helped to keep alive the memory of Chesterfield. One was Dr. Johnson's famous letter, in which he hotly scorched the politic Earl for withholding his patronage until after the publication of his great dictionary, and then offering it when it was no longer needed. The other was his well-known “Letters to his Son,” which have gained a permanent place in English literature. They contain a good deal of shrewd and solid observation, but many of their teachings are those of a man of fashion of that age, and are by no means in accord with the code of social morals now prevailing. As an orator Chesterfield had marked ability, wit and sarcasm adding their force to the more solid characteristics of his method of speech. Until 1730 he was a Whig in politics and supported Walpole, but, ousted from office in the king's household by that minister, he joined the opposition and became one of his bitterest antagonists.
A FAMOUS man was Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chester
THE DRINKING FUND
[Of Chesterfield's oratory the most effective existing example is his speech made in the House of Lords, February 21, 1743, on the Gin Act; a measure proposing to increase the revenue by licensing the sale of gin. In this powerful speech he antedated by a century the Prohibition movement, using the same arguments against the sale of ardent spirits as were employed by the nineteenth century advocates, and with equal effectiveness. We append a characteristic selection from this address.]
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Luxury, my lords, is to be taxed, but vice prohibited, let the difficulties in executing the law be what they will. Would you lay a tax on the breach of the Ten Commandments 2 Would not such a tax be wicked and scandalous; because it would imply an indulgence to all those who could pay the tax 2 Is not this a reproach most justly thrown by the Protestants upon the Church of Rome 2 Was it not the chief cause of the Reformation ? And will you follow a precedent which brought reproach and ruin upon those that introduced it This is the very case now before you. You are going to lay a tax, and consequently to indulge a sort of drunkenness, which almost necessarily produces a breach of every one of the Ten Commandments. Can you expect the reverend bench will approve of this. I am convinced they will not ; and therefore I wish I had seen it full upon this occasion. We have already, my lords, several sorts of funds in this nation, so many that a man must have a good deal of learning to be master of them. Thanks to his Majesty, we have now among us the most learned man of the nation in this way. I wish he would rise up and tell us what name we are to give this new fund. We have already the Civil List Fund, the Sinking Fund, the Aggregate Fund, the South Sea Fund, and God knows how many others. What name we are to give this new fund I know not, unless we are to call it the Drinking Fund. It may, perhaps, enable the people of a certain foreign territory [Hanover] to drink claret, but it will disable the people of this kingdom from drinking anything esse but gin; for when a man has, by gin drinking, rendered himself unfit for labor or business, he can purchase nothing else; and then the best thing for him to do is to drink on till he dies. Surely, my lords, men of such unbounded benevolence as our present ministers deserve such honors as were never paid before; they deserve to bestride a butt upon every signpost in the city, or to have their figures exhibited as tokens where this liquor is to be sold by the license which they have procured. They must be at least remembered to future ages as the “happy politicians '' who, after all expedients for raising taxes had been employed, discovered a new method of draining the last relics of the public wealth, and added a new revenue to the Government. Nor will those who shall hereafter enumerate the several funds now established among us, forget, among the benefactors of their country, the illustrious authors of the Drinking Fund. . . . . The noble lord has been pleased kindly to inform us that the trade of distilling is very extensive; that it employs great numbers; and that they have arrived at an exquisite skill, and therefore—note well the consequence—the trade of distilling is not to be discouraged.
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Once more, my lords, allow me to wonder at the different conceptions of different understandings. It appears to me that since the spirits which the distillers produce are allowed to enfeeble the limbs and vitals of the blood, to pervert the heart and obscure the intellect, that the number of distillers should be no argument in their favor ; for I never heard that a law against theft was repealed or delayed because thieves were numerous. It appears to me, my lords, that if so formidable a body are confederated against the virtue or the lives of their fellow-citizens, it is time to put an end to the havoc, and to interpose while it is yet in our power to stop the destruction. So little, my lords, am I afflicted with the merit of this wonderful skill which the distillers are said to have attained, that it is, in my opinion, no faculty of great use to mankind to prepare palatable poison ; nor shall I ever contribute my interest for the reprieve of a murderer, because he has, by long practice, obtained great dexterity in his trade. If their liquors are so delicious that the people are tempted to their own destruction, let us at length, my lords, secure them from these fatal draughts by bursting the vials that contain them. Let us crush at once these artists in slaughter, who have reconciled their countrymen to sickness and to ruin, and spread over the pitfalls of debauchery such baits as cannot be resisted. This bill, therefore, appears to be designed only to thin the ranks of mankind, and to disburden the world of the multitudes that inhabit it; and is perhaps the strongest proof of political sagacity that our new ministers have yet exhibited. They well know, my lords, that they are universally detested, and that, whenever a Briton is destroyed, they are freed from an enemy; they have therefore opened the flood gates of gin upon the nation, that, when it is less numerous, it may be more easily governed. Other ministers, my lords, who had not attained to so great a knowledge in the art of making war upon their country, when they found their enemies clamorous and bold, used to awe them with prosecutions and penalties, or destroy them like burglars, with prisons and with gibbets. But every age, my lords, produces some improvement; and every nation, however degenerate, gives birth, at some happy period of time, to men of great and enterprising genius. It is our fortune to be witnesses of a new discovery in politics. We may congratulate ourselves upon being contemporaries with those men who have shown that hangmen and halters are unnecessary in a State, and that ministers may escape the reproach of destroying their enemies by inciting them to destroy themselves.