Imaginary Conversations and Poems, by Walter Savage Landor

Oliver Cromwell and Walter Noble

Cromwell. What brings thee back from Staffordshire, friend Walter?

Noble. I hope, General Cromwell, to persuade you that the death of Charles will be considered by all Europe as a most atrocious action.

Cromwell. Thou hast already persuaded me: what then?

Noble. Surely, then, you will prevent it, for your authority is great. Even those who upon their consciences found him guilty would remit the penalty of blood, some from policy, some from mercy. I have conversed with Hutchinson, with Ludlow,5 your friend and mine, with Henry Nevile, and Walter Long: you will oblige these worthy friends, and unite in your favour the suffrages of the truest and trustiest men living. There are many others, with whom I am in no habits of intercourse, who are known to entertain the same sentiments; and these also are among the country gentlemen, to whom our parliament owes the better part of its reputation.

Cromwell. You country gentlemen bring with you into the People’s House a freshness and sweet savour which our citizens lack mightily. I would fain merit your esteem, heedless of those pursy fellows from hulks and warehouses, with one ear lappeted by the pen behind it, and the other an heirloom, as Charles would have had it, in Laud’s Star-chamber. Oh, they are proud and bloody men! My heart melts; but, alas! my authority is null: I am the servant of the Commonwealth. I will not, dare not, betray it. If Charles Stuart had threatened my death only, in the letter we ripped out of the saddle, I would have reproved him manfully and turned him adrift: but others are concerned; lives more precious than mine, worn as it is with fastings, prayers, long services, and preyed upon by a pouncing disease. The Lord hath led him into the toils laid for the innocent. Foolish man! he never could eschew evil counsel.

Noble. In comparison with you, he is but as a pinnacle to a buttress. I acknowledge his weaknesses, and cannot wink upon his crimes: but that which you visit as the heaviest of them perhaps was not so, although the most disastrous to both parties — the bearing of arms against his people. He fought for what he considered his hereditary property; we do the same: should we be hanged for losing a lawsuit?

Cromwell. No, unless it is the second. Thou talkest finely and foolishly, Wat, for a man of thy calm discernment. If a rogue holds a pistol to my breast, do I ask him who he is? Do I care whether his doublet be of cat-skin or of dog-skin? Fie upon such wicked sophisms! Marvellous, how the devil works upon good men’s minds!

Noble. Charles was always more to be dreaded by his friends than by his enemies, and now by neither.

Cromwell. God forbid that Englishmen should be feared by Englishmen! but to be daunted by the weakest, to bend before the worst — I tell thee, Walter Noble, if Moses and the prophets commanded me to this villainy, I would draw back and mount my horse.

Noble. I wish that our history, already too dark with blood, should contain, as far as we are concerned in it, some unpolluted pages.

Cromwell. ’Twere better, much better. Never shall I be called, I promise thee, an unnecessary shedder of blood. Remember, my good, prudent friend, of what materials our sectaries are composed: what hostility against all eminence, what rancour against all glory. Not only kingly power offends them, but every other; and they talk of putting to the sword, as if it were the quietest, gentlest, and most ordinary thing in the world. The knaves even dictate from their stools and benches to men in armour, bruised and bleeding for them; and with school-dames’ scourges in their fists do they give counsel to those who protect them from the cart and halter. In the name of the Lord, I must spit outright (or worse) upon these crackling bouncing firebrands, before I can make them tractable.

Noble. I lament their blindness; but follies wear out the faster by being hard run upon. This fermenting sourness will presently turn vapid, and people will cast it out. I am not surprised that you are discontented and angry at what thwarts your better nature. But come, Cromwell, overlook them, despise them, and erect to yourself a glorious name by sparing a mortal enemy.

Cromwell. A glorious name, by God’s blessing, I will erect; and all our fellow-labourers shall rejoice at it: but I see better than they do the blow descending on them, and my arm better than theirs can ward it off. Noble, thy heart overflows with kindness for Charles Stuart: if he were at liberty tomorrow by thy intercession, he would sign thy death-warrant the day after, for serving the Commonwealth. A generation of vipers! there is nothing upright nor grateful in them: never was there a drop of even Scotch blood in their veins. Indeed, we have a clue to their bedchamber still hanging on the door, and I suspect that an Italian fiddler or French valet has more than once crossed the current.

Noble. That may be: nor indeed is it credible that any royal or courtly family has gone on for three generations without a spur from interloper. Look at France! some stout Parisian saint performed the last miracle there.

Cromwell. Now thou talkest gravely and sensibly: I could hear thee discourse thus for hours together.

Noble. Hear me, Cromwell, with equal patience on matters more important. We all have our sufferings: why increase one another’s wantonly? Be the blood Scotch or English, French or Italian, a drummer’s or a buffoon’s, it carries a soul upon its stream; and every soul has many places to touch at, and much business to perform, before it reaches its ultimate destination. Abolish the power of Charles; extinguish not his virtues. Whatever is worthy to be loved for anything is worthy to be preserved. A wise and dispassionate legislator, if any such should arise among men, will not condemn to death him who has done, or is likely to do, more service than injury to society. Blocks and gibbets are the nearest objects to ours, and their business is never with virtues or with hopes.

Cromwell. Walter! Walter! we laugh at speculators.

Noble. Many indeed are ready enough to laugh at speculators, because many profit, or expect to profit, by established and widening abuses. Speculations toward evil lose their name by adoption; speculations towards good are for ever speculations, and he who hath proposed them is a chimerical and silly creature. Among the matters under this denomination I never find a cruel project, I never find an oppressive or unjust one: how happens it?

Cromwell. Proportions should exist in all things. Sovereigns are paid higher than others for their office; they should therefore be punished more severely for abusing it, even if the consequences of this abuse were in nothing more grievous or extensive. We cannot clap them in the stocks conveniently, nor whip them at the market-place. Where there is a crown there must be an axe: I would keep it there only.

Noble. Lop off the rotten, press out the poisonous, preserve the rest; let it suffice to have given this memorable example of national power and justice.

Cromwell. Justice is perfect; an attribute of God: we must not trifle with it.

Noble. Should we be less merciful to our fellow-creatures than to our domestic animals? Before we deliver them to be killed, we weigh their services against their inconveniences. On the foundation of policy, when we have no better, let us erect the trophies of humanity: let us consider that, educated in the same manner and situated in the same position, we ourselves might have acted as reprovably. Abolish that for ever which must else for ever generate abuses; and attribute the faults of the man to the office, not the faults of the office to the man.

Cromwell. I have no bowels for hypocrisy, and I abominate and detest kingship.

Noble. I abominate and detest hangmanship; but in certain stages of society both are necessary. Let them go together; we want neither now.

Cromwell. Men, like nails, lose their usefulness when they lose their direction and begin to bend: such nails are then thrown into the dust or into the furnace. I must do my duty; I must accomplish what is commanded me; I must not be turned aside. I am loath to be cast into the furnace or the dust; but God’s will be done! Prithee, Wat, since thou readest, as I see, the books of philosophers, didst thou ever hear of Digby’s remedies by sympathy?

Noble. Yes, formerly.

Cromwell. Well, now, I protest, I do believe there is something in them. To cure my headache, I must breathe a vein in the neck of Charles.

Noble. Oliver, Oliver! others are wittiest over wine, thou over blood: cold-hearted, cruel man.

Cromwell. Why, dost thou verily think me so, Walter? Perhaps thou art right in the main: but He alone who fashioned me in my mother’s womb, and who sees things deeper than we do, knows that.

5 Ludlow, a most humane and temperate man, signed the death-warrant of Charles, for violating the constitution he had sworn to defend, for depriving the subject of property, liberty, limbs, and life unlawfully. In equity he could do no otherwise; and to equity was the only appeal, since the laws of the land had been erased by the king himself.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38