Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

The Rump.

Text and commentary! The French Revolution abounds with wonderful “explanatory notes” on the English. It has cleared up many obscure passages — and in the political history of Man, both pages must be read together.

The opprobrious and ludicrous nickname of “the Rump,” stigmatised a faction which played the same part in the English Revolution as the “Montagne” of the Jacobins did in the French. It has been imagined that our English Jacobins were impelled by a principle different from that of their modern rivals; but the madness of avowed atheism, and the frenzy of hypocritical sanctity, in the circle of crimes meet at the same point. Their history forms one of those useful parallels where, with truth as unerring as mathematical demonstration, we discover the identity of human nature. Similarity of situation, and certain principles, producing similar personages and similar events, finally settle in the same results. The Rump, as long as human nature exists, can be nothing but the Rump, however it may be thrown uppermost.

The origin of this political by-name has often been inquired into; and it is somewhat curious, that, though all parties consent to reprobate it, each assigns for it a different allusion. In the history of political factions there is always a mixture of the ludicrous with the tragic; but, except their modern brothers, no faction like the present ever excited such a combination of extreme contempt and extreme horror.

Among the rival parties in 1659, the loyalists and the presbyterians acted as we may suppose the Tories and the Whigs would in the same predicament; a secret reconciliation had taken place, to bury in oblivion their former jealousies, that they might unite to rid themselves from that tyranny of tyrannies, a hydra-headed government; or, as Hume observes, that “all efforts should be used for the overthrow of the Rump; so they called the parliament, in allusion to that part of the animal body.” The sarcasm of the allusion seemed obvious to our polished historian; yet, looking more narrowly for its origin, we shall find how indistinct were the notions of this nickname among those who lived nearer to the times. Evelyn says that “the Rump parliament was so called as containing some few rotten members of the other.” Roger Coke describes it thus: “You must now be content with a piece of the Commons called ‘the Rump.’” And Carte calls the Rump, “the carcass of a house,” and seems not precisely aware of the contemptuous allusion. But how do “rotten members” and “a carcass” agree with the notion of “a Rump?” Recently the editor of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson has conveyed a novel origin. “The number of the members of the Long Parliament having been by seclusion, death, &c., very much reduced,”— a remarkable &c. this! by which our editor seems adroitly to throw a veil over the forcible transportation by the Rumpers of two hundred members at one swoop — “the remainder was compared to the rump of a fowl which was left, all the rest being eaten.” Our editor even considers this to be “a coarse emblem;” yet “the rump of a fowl” could hardly offend even a lady’s delicacy! Our editor, probably, was somewhat anxious not to degrade too lowly the anti-monarchical party, designated by this opprobrious term. Perhaps it is pardonable in Mrs. Macaulay, an historical lady, and a “Rumper,” for she calls the “Levellers” a “brave and virtuous party,” to have passed over in her history any mention of the offensive term at all, as well as the ridiculous catastrophe which they underwent in the political revolution, which, however, we must beg leave not to pass by.

This party-coinage has been ascribed to Clement Walker, their bitter antagonist; who, having sacrificed no inconsiderable fortune to the cause of what he considered constitutional liberty, was one of the violent ejected members of the Long Parliament, and perished in prison, a victim to honest, unbending principles. His “History of Independency” is a rich legacy bequeathed to posterity, of all their great misdoings, and their petty villanies, and, above all, of their secret history. One likes to know of what blocks the idols of the people are sometimes carved out.

Clement Walker notices “the votes and acts of this fag end; this rump of a parliament, with corrupt maggots in it.”1 This hideous, but descriptive image of “The Rump” had, however, got forward before, for the collector of “the Rump Songs”2 tells us, “If you ask who named it Rump, know ’twas so styled in an honest sheet of prayer, called ‘The Bloody Rump,’ written before the trial of our late sovereign; but the word obtained not universal notice, till it flew from the mouth of Major-General Brown, at a public assembly in the days of Richard Cromwell.” Thus it happens that a stinging nickname has been frequently applied to render a faction eternally odious; and the chance expression of a wit, when adopted on some public occasion, circulates among a whole people. The present nickname originated in derision on the expulsion of the majority of the Long Parliament by the usurping minority. It probably slept; for who would have stirred it through the Protectorate? and finally awakened at Richard’s restored, but fleeting “Rump,” to witness its own ridiculous extinction.

Our Rump passed through three stages in its political progress. Preparatory to the trial of the sovereign, the anti-monarchical party constituted the minority in “the Long Parliament:” the very name by which this parliament is recognised seemed a grievance to an impatient people, vacillating with chimerical projects of government, and now accustomed, from a wild indefinite notion of political equality, to pull down all existing institutions. Such was the temper of the times, that an act of the most violent injustice, openly performed, served only as the jest of the day, a jest which has passed into history. The forcible expulsion of two hundred of their brother members, by those who afterwards were saluted as “The Rump,” was called “Pride’s Purge,” from the activity of a colonel of that name, a military adventurer, who was only the blind and brutal instrument of his party; for when he stood at the door of the Commons, holding a paper with the names of the members, he did not personally know one! And his “Purge” might have operated a quite opposite effect, administered by his own unskilful hand, had not Lord Grey of Groby, and the door-keeper — worthy dispersers of the British senate! — pointed out the obnoxious members, on whom our colonel laid his hand, and sent off by his men to be detained, if a bold member, or to be deterred from sitting in the house, if a frightened one. This colonel had been a drayman; and the contemptible knot of the Commons, reduced to fifty or sixty confederates, which assembled after his “Purge,” were called “Colonel Pride’s Dray-Horses.”

It was this Rump which voted the death of the sovereign, and abolished the regal office, and the House of Peers — as “unnecessary, burdensome, and dangerous!” Every office in parliament seemed “dangerous,” but that of the “Custodes libertatis Angliæ,” the keepers of the liberties of England! or rather “the gaolers!” “The legislative half-quarter of the House of Commons!” indignantly exclaims Clement Walker — the “Montagne” of the French revolutionists!

The “Red-coats” as the military were nicknamed, soon taught their masters, “the Rumpers,” silence and obedience: the latter having raised one colossal man for their own purpose, were annihilated by him at a single blow. Cromwell, five years after, turned them out of their house, and put the keys into his pocket. Their last public appearance was in the fleeting days of Richard Cromwell, when the comi-tragedy of “the Rump” concluded by a catastrophe as ludicrous as that of Tom Thumb’s tragedy!

How such a faction used their instruments to gather in the common spoil, and how their instruments at length converted the hands which held them into instruments themselves, appears in their history. When “the Long Parliament” opposed the designs of Cromwell and Ireton, these chiefs cried up “the liberty of the people,” and denied “the authority of parliament:” but when they had effectuated their famous “purge,” and formed a House of Commons of themselves, they abolished the House of Lords, crying up the supreme authority of the House of Commons, and crying down the liberty of the people. Such is the history of political factions, as well as of statesmen! Charles the Fifth alternately made use of the Pope’s authority to subdue the rising spirit of the Protestants of Germany, or raised an army of Protestants to imprison the Pope! who branded his German allies by the novel and odious name of Lutherans. A chain of similar facts may be framed out of modern history.

The “Rump,” as they were called by every one but their own party, became a whetstone for the wits to sharpen themselves on; and we have two large collections of “Rump Songs,” curious chronicles of popular feeling!3 Without this evidence we should not have been so well informed respecting the phases of this portentous phenomenon. “The Rump” was celebrated in verse, till at length it became “the Rump of a Rump of a Rump!” as Foulis traces them to their dwindled and grotesque appearance. It is pourtrayed by a wit of the times —

The Rump’s an old story, if well understood,

’Tis a thing dress’d up in a parliament’s hood,

And like it — but the tail stands where the head shou’d!

’Twould make a man scratch where it does not itch!

They say ’tis good luck when a body rises

With the rump upwards; but he that advises

To live in that posture, is none of the wisest.

Cromwell’s hunting them out of the House by military force is alluded to —

Our politic doctors do us teach,

That a blood-sucking red-coat’s as good as a leech

To relieve the head, if applied to the breech.

In the opening scene of the Restoration, Mrs. Hutchinson, an honest republican, paints with dismay a scene otherwise very ludicrous. “When the town of Nottingham, as almost all the rest of the island, began to grow mad, and declared themselves in their desires of the king;” or, as another of the opposite party writes, “When the soldiery, who had hitherto made clubs trumps, resolved now to turn up the king of hearts in their affections,” the rabble in town and country vied with each other in burning the “Rump;” and the literal emblem was hung by chains on gallowses, with a bonfire underneath, while the cries of “Let us burn the Rump! Let us roast the Rump!” were echoed everywhere. The suddenness of this universal change, which was said to have maddened the wise, and to have sobered the mad, must be ascribed to the joy at escaping from the yoke of a military despotism; perhaps, too, it marked the rapid transition of hope to a restoration which might be supposed to have implanted gratitude even in a royal breast! The feelings of the people expected to find an echo from the throne!

“The Rump,” besides their general resemblance to the French anarchists, had also some minuter features of ugliness, which Englishmen have often exulted have not marked an English revolution — sanguinary proscriptions!4 We had thought that we had no revolutionary tribunals! no Septembrisers! no noyades! no moveable guillotines awaiting for carts loaded with human victims! no infuriated republican urging, in a committee of public safety, the necessity of a salutary massacre!

But if it be true that the same motives and the same principles were at work in both nations, and that the like characters were performing in England the parts which they did afterwards in France, by an argument à priori we might be sure that the same revolting crimes and chimerical projects were alike suggested at London as at Paris. Human nature, even in transactions which appear unparalleled, will be found to preserve a regularity of resemblance not always suspected.

The first great tragic act was closely copied by the French: and if the popular page of our history appears unstained by their revolutionary axe, this depended only on a slight accident; for it became a question of “yea” and “nay!” and was only carried in the negative by two voices in the council! It was debated among “the bloody Rump,” as it was hideously designated, “whether to massacre and to put to the sword all the king’s party!”5 Cromwell himself listened to the suggestion; and it was only put down by the coolness of political calculation — the dread that the massacre would be too general! Some of the Rump not obtaining the blessedness of a massacre, still clung to the happiness of an immolation; and many petitions were presented, that “two or three principal gentlemen of the royal party in each county might be sacrificed to justice, whereby the land might be saved from blood-guiltiness!” Sir Arthur Haslerigg, whose “passionate fondness of liberty” has been commended,6 was one of the committee of safety in 1647 — I too would commend “a passionate lover of liberty,” whenever I do not discover that this lover is much more intent on the dower than on the bride. Haslerigg, “an absurd, bold man,” as Clarendon, at a single stroke, reveals his character, was resolved not to be troubled with king or bishop, or with any power in the state superior to “the Rump’s.” We may safely suspect the patriot who can cool his vehemence in spoliation. Haslerigg would have no bishops, but this was not from any want of reverence for church lands, for he heaped for himself such wealth as to have been nicknamed “the Bishop of Durham!” He is here noticed for a political crime different from that of plunder. When, in 1647, this venerable radical found the parliament resisting his views, he declared that “Some heads must fly off!” adding, “the parliament cannot save England; we must look another way;”— threatening, what afterwards was done, to bring in the army! It was this “passionate lover of liberty” who, when Dorislaus, the parliamentary agent, was assassinated by some Scotchmen in Holland, moved in the house, that “six royalists of the best quality” should be immediately executed! When some northern counties petitioned the Commons for relief against a famine in the land, our Maratist observed, that “this want of food would best defend those counties from Scottish invasion!”7 The slaughter of Drogheda by Cromwell, and his frightening all London by what Walker calls “a butchery of apprentices,” when he cried out to his soldiers, “to kill man, woman, and child, and fire the city!”8 may be placed among those crimes which are committed to open a reign of terror — but Hugh Peters’s solemn thanksgiving to Heaven that “none were spared!” was the true expression of the true feeling of these political demoniacs. Cromwell was cruel from politics, others from constitution. Some were willing to be cruel without “blood-guiltiness.” One Alexander Rigby, a radical lawyer, twice moved in the Long Parliament, that those lords and gentlemen who were “malignants,” should be sold as slaves to the Dey of Algiers, or sent off to the new plantations in the West Indies. He had all things prepared; for it is added that he had contracted with two merchants to ship them off.9 There was a most bloody-minded “maker of washing-balls,” as one John Durant is described, appointed a lecturer by the House of Commons, who always left out of the Lord’s Prayer, “As we forgive them that trespass against us,” and substituted, “Lord, since thou hast now drawn out thy sword, let it not be sheathed again till it be glutted in the blood of the malignants.” I find too many enormities of this kind. “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord negligently, and keepeth back his sword from blood!” was the cry of the wretch, who, when a celebrated actor and royalist sued for quarter, gave no other reply than that of “fitting the action to the word.”10 Their treatment of the Irish may possibly be admired by a true Machiavelist: “they permitted forty thousand of the Irish to enlist in the service of the kings of Spain and France”— in other words, they expelled them at once, which, considering that our Rumpers affected such an abhorrence of tyranny, may be considered as an act of mercy! satisfying themselves only with dividing the forfeited lands of the aforesaid forty thousand among their own party, by lot and other means. An universal confiscation, after all, is a bloodless massacre. They used the Scotch soldiers, after the battles of Dunbar and Worcester, a little differently — but equally efficaciously — for they sold their Scotch prisoners for slaves to the American planters.11

The Robespierres and the Marats were as extraordinary beings, and in some respects the Frenchmen were working on a more enlarged scheme. These discovered that ”the generation which had witnessed the preceding one would always regret it; and for the security of the Revolution, it was necessary that every person who was thirty years old in 1788 should perish on the scaffold!” The anarchists were intent on reducing the French people to eight millions, and on destroying the great cities of France.12

Such monstrous persons and events are not credible — but this is no proof that they have not occurred. Many incredible things will happen!

Another disorganising feature in the English Rumpers was also observed in the French Sans-culottes — their hatred of literature and the arts. Hebert was one day directing his satellites towards the Bibliothèque Nationale, to put an end to all that human knowledge had collected for centuries on centuries — in one day! alleging, of course, some good reason. This hero was only diverted from the enterprise by being persuaded to postpone it for a day or two, when luckily the guillotine intervened; the same circumstance occurred here. The burning of the records in the Tower was certainly proposed; a speech of Selden’s, which I cannot immediately turn to, put a stop to these incendiaries. It was debated in the Rump parliament, when Cromwell was general, whether they should dissolve the universities? They concluded that no university was necessary; that there were no ancient examples of such education, and that scholars in other countries did study at their own cost and charges, and therefore they looked on them as unnecessary, and thought them fitting to be taken away for the public use! — How these venerable asylums escaped from being sold with the king’s pictures, as stone and timber, and why their rich endowments were not shared among such inveterate ignorance and remorseless spoliation, might claim some inquiry.

The Abbé Morellet, a great political economist, imagined that the source of all the crimes of the French Revolution was their violation of the sacred rights of property. The perpetual invectives of the Sans-culottes of France against proprietors and against property proceeded from demoralised beings who formed panegyrics on all crimes; crimes, to explain whose revolutionary terms, a new dictionary was required. But even these anarchists, in their mad expressions against property, and in their wildest notions of their “égalité,” have not gone beyond the daring of our own “Rumpers!”

Of those revolutionary journals of the parliament of 1649, which in spirit so strongly resemble the diurnal or hebdomadal effusions of the redoubtable French Hebert, Marat, and others of that stamp, one of the most remarkable is, “The Moderate, impartially communicating Martial Affairs to the Kingdom of England;” the monarchical title our commonwealth men had not yet had time enough to obliterate from their colloquial style. This writer called himself, in his barbarous English, The Moderate! It would be hard to conceive the meanness and illiteracy to which the English language was reduced under the pens of the rabble-writers of these days, had we not witnessed in the present time a parallel to their compositions. “The Moderate!” was a title assumed on the principle on which Marat denominated himself “l’Ami du Peuple.” It is curious that the most ferocious politicians usually assert their moderation. Robespierre, in his justification, declares that Marat “m’a souvent accusé de Modérantisme.” The same actors, playing the same parts, may be always paralleled in their language and their deeds. This “Moderate” steadily pursued one great principle — the overthrow of all property. Assuming that property was the original cause of sin! an exhortation to the people for this purpose is the subject of the present paper:13 the illustration of his principle is as striking as the principle itself.

It is an apology for, or rather a defence of, robbery! Some moss-troopers had been condemned to be hanged for practising their venerable custom of gratuitously supplying themselves from the flocks and herds of their weaker neighbours: our “Moderate” ingeniously discovers that the loss of these men’s lives is to be attributed to nothing but property. They are necessitated to offend the laws in order to obtain a livelihood!

On this he descants; and the extract is a political curiosity in the French style! “Property is the original cause of any sin between party and party as to civil transactions. And since the tyrant is taken off, and the government altered in nomine, so ought it really to redound to the good of the people in specie; which, though they cannot expect it in few years, by reason of the multiplicity of the gentlemen in authority, command, &c. who drive on all designs for support of the old government, and consequently their own interest and the people’s slavery, yet they doubt not but in time the people will herein discern their own blindness and folly.”

In September, he advanced with more depth of thought. “Wars have ever been clothed with the most gracious pretences — viz., reformation of religion, the laws of the land, the liberty of the subject, &c.; though the effects thereof have proved most destructive to every nation; making the sword, and not the people, the original of all authorities for many hundred years together, taking away each man’s birthright, and settling upon a few A CURSED PROPRIETY; the ground of all civil offences, and the greatest cause of most sins against the heavenly Deity. This tyranny and oppression running through the veins of many of our predecessors, and being too long maintained by the sword upon a royal foundation, at last became so customary, as to the vulgar it seemed most natural — the only reason why the people of this time are so ignorant of their birthright, their only freedom,” &c.

“The birthright” of citoyen Egalité to “a cursed propriety settled on a few,” was not, even among the French Jacobins, urged with more amazing force. Had things proceeded according to our “Moderate’s” plan, “the people’s slavery” had been something worse. In a short time the nation would have had more proprietors than property. We have a curious list of the spoliations of those members of the House of Commons, who, after their famous self-denying ordinances, appropriated among themselves sums of money, offices, and lands, for services “done or to be done.”

The most innocent of this new government of “the Majesty of the People,” were those whose talents had been limited by Nature to peddle and purloin; puny mechanics, who had suddenly dropped their needles, their hammers, and their lasts, and slunk out from behind their shop-counters; those who had never aspired beyond the constable of the parish, were now seated in the council of state; where, as Milton describes them, “they fell to huckster the commonwealth:” there they met a more rabid race of obscure lawyers, and discontented men of family, of blasted reputations; adventurers, who were to command the militia and navy of England — governors of the three kingdoms! whose votes and ordinances resounded with nothing else but new impositions, new taxes, excises, yearly, monthly, weekly sequestrations, compositions, and universal robbery!

Baxter vents one deep groan of indignation, and presciently announces one future consequence of Reform! “In all this appeared the severity of God, the mutability of worldly things, and the fruits of error, pride, and selfishness, to be charged hereafter upon reformation and religion.” As a statesman, the sagacity of this honest prophet was narrowed by the horizon of his religious views; for he ascribes the whole as “prepared by Satan to the injury of the Protestant cause, and the advantage of the Papists!” But dropping his particular application to the devil and the Papists, honest Richard Baxter is perfectly right in his general principle concerning “Rumpers,”—“Sans-culottes,” and “Radicals.”

1 History of Independency, Part II. p. 32.

2 First collected and published in 1661, and afterwards reprinted in two small vols. 1731.

3 The first collection ever formed of these political satires was printed in 1660, with the quaint title of “Ratts rhimed to Death; or, the Rump-parliament hang’d up in the Shambles.”

4 In one of the popular political songs of the day, “The Rump” is aptly compared to

“The foxes of Samson, that carried a brand

In their tails, to destroy and to burn up the land.”

5 Clement Walker’s History of Independency, part II. p. 130. Confirmed by Barwick in his Life, p. 163.

6 The Rev. Mark Noble’s Memoirs of the Protectoral House of Cromwell, i. 405.

7 Clement Walker’s History of Independency, Part II. 173.

8 Ib., Part I. 160.

9 Mercurius Rusticus, xii. 115. Barwick’s Life, p. 42.

10 This actor was a comedian named Robinson, of the Blackfriars Theatre; the performers there being termed “the king’s servants.” In the civil wars most of the young actors, deprived of living by their profession, all theatres being closed by order of the Parliament, went into the king’s army. Robinson was fighting at the siege of Basing House, in Hampshire, October, 1645, when after an obstinate defence his party was defeated, he laid down his arms, suing for quarter, but was shot through the head by Colonel Harrison, as he repeated the words quoted above.

11 The following account is drawn from Sir William Dugdale’s interleaved Pocket-book for 1648. —“Aug. 17. The Scotch army, under the command of Duke Hamilton, defeated at Preston in Lancashire. 24th. The Moorlanders rose upon the Scots and stript some of them. The Scotch prisoners miserably used; exposed to eat cabbage-leaves in Ridgley (Staffordshire), and carrot-tops in Coleshill (Warwickshire). The soldiers who guarded them sold the victuals which were brought in for them from the country.”

12 Desodoard’s Histoire Philosophique de la Révolution de France, iv. 5. When Lyons was captured in 1793, the revolutionary army nearly reduced this fine city to a heap of ruins, in obedience to the decree of the Montagne, who had ordered its name to be effaced, that it should henceforth be termed, “Commune affranchie,” and upon its ruins a column erected and inscribed, “Lyon fit la guerre à la liberté; Lyon n’est plus.”

13 The Moderate, from Tuesday, July 31, to August 7, 1649.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37