Imaginary Conversations and Poems, by Walter Savage Landor

Oliver Cromwell and Sir Oliver Cromwell

Sir Oliver. How many saints and Sions dost carry under thy cloak, lad? Ay, what dost groan at? What art about to be delivered of? Troth, it must be a vast and oddly-shapen piece of roguery which findeth no issue at such capacious quarters. I never thought to see thy face again. Prithee what, in God’s name, hath brought thee to Ramsey, fair Master Oliver?

Oliver. In His name verily I come, and upon His errand; and the love and duty I bear unto my godfather and uncle have added wings, in a sort, unto my zeal.

Sir Oliver. Take ’em off thy zeal and dust thy conscience with ’em. I have heard an account of a saint, one Phil Neri, who in the midst of his devotions was lifted up several yards from the ground. Now I do suspect, Nol, thou wilt finish by being a saint of his order; and nobody will promise or wish thee the luck to come down on thy feet again, as he did. So! because a rabble of fanatics at Huntingdon have equipped thee as their representative in Parliament, thou art free of all men’s houses, forsooth! I would have thee to understand, sirrah, that thou art fitter for the House they have chaired thee unto than for mine. Yet I do not question but thou wilt be as troublesome and unruly there as here. Did I not turn thee out of Hinchinbrook when thou wert scarcely half the rogue thou art latterly grown up to? And yet wert thou immeasurably too big a one for it to hold.

Oliver. It repenteth me, O mine uncle! that in my boyhood and youth the Lord had not touched me.

Sir Oliver. Touch thee! thou wast too dirty a dog by half.

Oliver. Yes, sorely doth it vex and harrow me that I was then of ill conditions, and that my name . . . even your godson’s . . . stank in your nostrils.

Sir Oliver. Ha! polecat! it was not thy name, although bad enough, that stank first; in my house, at least. But perhaps there are worse maggots in stauncher mummeries.

Oliver. Whereas in the bowels of your charity you then vouchsafed me forgiveness, so the more confidently may I crave it now in this my urgency.

Sir Oliver. More confidently! What! hast got more confidence? Where didst find it? I never thought the wide circle of the world had within it another jot for thee. Well, Nol, I see no reason why shouldst stand before me with thy hat off, in the courtyard and in the sun, counting the stones in the pavement. Thou hast some knavery in thy head, I warrant thee. Come, put on thy beaver.

Oliver. Uncle Sir Oliver! I know my duty too well to stand covered in the presence of so worshipful a kinsman, who, moreover, hath answered at baptism for my good behaviour.

Sir Oliver. God forgive me for playing the fool before Him so presumptuously and unprofitably! Nobody shall ever take me in again to do such an absurd and wicked thing. But thou hast some left-handed business in the neighbourhood, no doubt, or thou wouldst never more have come under my archway.

Oliver. These are hard times for them that seek peace. We are clay in the hands of the potter.

Sir Oliver. I wish your potters sought nothing costlier, and dug in their own grounds for it. Most of us, as thou sayest, have been upon the wheel of these artificers; and little was left but rags when we got off. Sanctified folks are the cleverest skinners in all Christendom, and their Jordan tans and constringes us to the avoirdupois of mummies.

Oliver. The Lord hath chosen His own vessels.

Sir Oliver. I wish heartily He would pack them off, and send them anywhere on ass-back or cart (cart preferably), to rid our country of ’em. But now again to the point: for if we fall among the potsherds we shall hobble on but lamely. Since thou art raised unto a high command in the army, and hast a dragoon to hold thy solid and stately piece of horse-flesh, I cannot but take it into my fancy that thou hast some commission of array or disarray to execute hereabout.

Oliver. With a sad sinking of spirit, to the pitch well-nigh of swounding, and with a sight of bitter tears, which will not be put back nor stayed in any wise, as you bear testimony unto me, Uncle Oliver!

Sir Oliver. No tears, Master Nol, I beseech thee! Wet days, among those of thy kidney, portend the letting of blood. What dost whimper at?

Oliver. That I, that I, of all men living, should be put upon this work!

Sir Oliver. What work, prithee?

Oliver. I am sent hither by them who (the Lord in His loving kindness having pity, and mercy upon these poor realms) do, under His right hand, administer unto our necessities, and righteously command us, by the aforesaid as aforesaid (thus runs the commission), hither am I deputed (woe is me!) to levy certain fines in this county, or shire, on such as the Parliament in its wisdom doth style malignants.

Sir Oliver. If there is anything left about the house, never be over-nice: dismiss thy modesty and lay hands upon it. In this county or shire, we let go the civet-bag to save the weazon.

Oliver. O mine uncle and godfather! be witness for me.

Sir Oliver. Witness for thee! not I indeed. But I would rather be witness than surety, lad, where thou art docketed.

Oliver. From the most despised doth the Lord ever choose His servants.

Sir Oliver. Then, faith! thou art His first butler.

Oliver. Serving Him with humility, I may peradventure be found worthy of advancement.

Sir Oliver. Ha! now if any devil speaks from within thee, it is thy own: he does not snuffle: to my ears he speaks plain English. Worthy or unworthy of advancement, thou wilt attain it. Come in; at least for an hour’s rest. Formerly thou knewest the means of setting the heaviest heart afloat, let it be sticking in what mud-bank it might: and my wet dock at Ramsey is pretty near as commodious as that over yonder at Hinchinbrook was erewhile. Times are changed, and places too! yet the cellar holds good.

Oliver. Many and great thanks! But there are certain men on the other side of the gate, who might take it ill if I turn away and neglect them.

Sir Oliver. Let them enter also, or eat their victuals where they are.

Oliver. They have proud stomachs: they are recusants.

Sir Oliver. Recusants of what? of beef and ale? We have claret, I trust, for the squeamish, if they are above the condition of tradespeople. But of course you leave no person of higher quality in the outer court.

Oliver. Vain are they and worldly, although such wickedness is the most abominable in their cases. Idle folks are fond of sitting in the sun: I would not forbid them this indulgence.

Sir Oliver. But who are they?

Oliver. The Lord knows. Maybe priests, deacons, and such-like.

Sir Oliver. Then, sir, they are gentlemen. And the commission you bear from the parliamentary thieves, to sack and pillage my mansion-house, is far less vexatious and insulting to me, than your behaviour in keeping them so long at my stable-door. With your permission, or without it, I shall take the liberty to invite them to partake of my poor hospitality.

Oliver. But, Uncle Sir Oliver! there are rules and ordinances whereby it must be manifested that they lie under displeasure . . . not mine . . . not mine . . . but my milk must not flow for them.

Sir Oliver. You may enter the house or remain where you are, at your option; I make my visit to these gentlemen immediately, for I am tired of standing. If thou ever reachest my age,12 Oliver! (but God will not surely let this be) thou wilt know that the legs become at last of doubtful fidelity in the service of the body.

Oliver. Uncle Sir Oliver! now that, as it seemeth, you have been taking a survey of the courtyard and its contents, am I indiscreet in asking your worship whether I acted not prudently in keeping the men-at-belly under the custody of the men-at-arms? This pestilence, like unto one I remember to have read about in some poetry of Master Chapman’s,13 began with the dogs and mules, and afterwards crope up into the breasts of men.

Sir Oliver. I call such treatment barbarous; their troopers will not let the gentlemen come with me into the house, but insist on sitting down to dinner with them. And yet, having brought them out of their colleges, these brutal half-soldiers must know that they are fellows.

Oliver. Yea, of a truth are they, and fellows well met. Out of their superfluities they give nothing to the Lord or His saints; no, not even stirrup or girth, wherewith we may mount our horses and go forth against those who thirst for our blood. Their eyes are fat, and they raise not up their voices to cry for our deliverance.

Sir Oliver. Art mad? What stirrups and girths are hung up in college halls and libraries? For what are these gentlemen brought hither?

Oliver. They have elected me, with somewhat short of unanimity, not indeed to be one of themselves, for of that distinction I acknowledge and deplore my unworthiness, nor indeed to be a poor scholar, to which, unless it be a very poor one, I have almost as small pretension, but simply to undertake a while the heavier office of bursar for them; to cast up their accounts; to overlook the scouring of their plate; and to lay a list thereof, with a few specimens, before those who fight the fight of the Lord, that His saints, seeing the abasement of the proud and the chastisement of worldly-mindedness, may rejoice.

Sir Oliver. I am grown accustomed to such saints and such rejoicings. But, little could I have thought, threescore years ago, that the hearty and jovial people of England would ever join in so filching and stabbing a jocularity. Even the petticoated torchbearers from rotten Rome, who lighted the faggots in Smithfield some years before, if more blustering and cocksy, were less bitter and vulturine. They were all intolerant, but they were not all hypocritical; they had not always ‘the Lord’ in their mouth.

Oliver. According to their own notions, they might have had, at an outlay of a farthing.

Sir Oliver. Art facetious, Nol? for it is as hard to find that out as anything else in thee, only it makes thee look, at times, a little the grimmer and sourer.

But, regarding these gentlemen from Cambridge. Not being such as, by their habits and professions, could have opposed you in the field, I hold it unmilitary and unmanly to put them under any restraint, and to lead them away from their peaceful and useful occupations.

Oliver. I always bow submissively before the judgment of mine elders; and the more reverentially when I know them to be endowed with greater wisdom, and guided by surer experience than myself. Alas! these collegians not only are strong men, as you may readily see if you measure them round the waistband, but boisterous and pertinacious challengers. When we, who live in the fear of God, exhorted them earnestly unto peace and brotherly love, they held us in derision. Thus far indeed it might be an advantage to us, teaching us forbearance and self-seeking, but we cannot countenance the evil spirit moving them thereunto. Their occupations, as you remark most wisely, might have been useful and peaceful, and had formerly been so. Why then did they gird the sword of strife about their loins against the children of Israel? By their own declaration, not only are they our enemies, but enemies the most spiteful and untractable. When I came quietly, lawfully, and in the name of the Lord, for their plate, what did they? Instead of surrendering it like honest and conscientious men, they attacked me and my people on horseback, with syllogisms and enthymemes, and the Lord knows with what other such gimcracks; such venomous and rankling old weapons as those who have the fear of God before their eyes are fain to lay aside. Learning should not make folks mockers . . . should not make folks malignants . . . should not harden their hearts. We came with bowels for them.

Sir Oliver. That ye did! and bowels which would have stowed within them all the plate on board of a galleon. If tankards and wassail-bowls had stuck between your teeth, you would not have felt them.

Oliver. We did feel them; some at least: perhaps we missed too many.

Sir Oliver. How can these learned societies raise the money you exact from them, beside plate? dost think they can create and coin it?

Oliver. In Cambridge, Uncle Sir Oliver, and more especially in that college named in honour (as they profanely call it) of the Blessed Trinity, there are great conjurors or chemists. Now the said conjurors or chemists not only do possess the faculty of making the precious metals out of old books and parchments, but out of the skulls of young lordlings and gentlefolks, which verily promise less. And this they bring about by certain gold wires fastened at the top of certain caps. Of said metals, thus devilishly converted, do they make a vain and sumptuous use; so that, finally, they are afraid of cutting their lips with glass. But indeed it is high time to call them.

Sir Oliver. Well . . . at last thou hast some mercy.

Oliver. [Aloud.] Cuffsatan Ramsbottom! Sadsoul Kiteclaw! advance! Let every gown, together with the belly that is therein, mount up behind you and your comrades in good fellowship. And forasmuch as you at the country places look to bit and bridle, it seemeth fair and equitable that ye should leave unto them, in full propriety, the mancipular office of discharging the account. If there be any spare beds at the inns, allow the doctors and dons to occupy the same . . . they being used to lie softly; and be not urgent that more than three lie in each . . . they being mostly corpulent. Let pass quietly and unreproved any light bubble of pride or impetuosity, seeing that they have not always been accustomed to the service of guards and ushers. The Lord be with ye! . . . Slow trot! And now, Uncle Sir Oliver, I can resist no longer your loving kindness. I kiss you, my godfather, in heart’s and soul’s duty; and most humbly and gratefully do I accept of your invitation to dine and lodge with you, albeit the least worthy of your family and kinsfolk. After the refreshment of needful food, more needful prayer, and that sleep which descendeth on the innocent like the dew of Hermon, tomorrow at daybreak I proceed on my journey Londonward.

Sir Oliver. [Aloud.] Ho, there! [To a servant.] Let dinner be prepared in the great dining-room; let every servant be in waiting, each in full livery; let every delicacy the house affords be placed upon the table in due courses; arrange all the plate upon the sideboard: a gentleman by descent . . . a stranger . . . has claimed my hospitality. [Servant goes.]

Sir! you are now master. Grant me dispensation, I entreat you, from a further attendance on you.

12 Sir Oliver, who died in 1655, aged ninety-three, might, by possibility, have seen all the men of great genius, excepting Chaucer and Roger Bacon, whom England had produced from its first discovery down to our own times, Francis Bacon, Shakespeare, Milton, Newton, and the prodigious shoal that attended these leviathans through the intellectual deep. Newton was but in his thirteenth year at Sir Oliver’s death. Raleigh, Spenser, Hooker, Eliot, Selden, Taylor, Hobbes, Sidney, Shaftesbury, and Locke, were existing in his lifetime; and several more, who may be compared with the smaller of these.

13 Chapman’s Homer, first book.

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