« AnteriorContinuar »
pose. It was their refusal to submit peaceably to a settled Government which had caused the difficulty, and it was for them to bear the expense of the measures which had been necessitated by their misconduct. Such an exaction, being no general taxation, might be considered by interested parties as saving the authority of the Instrument. Of any sympathetic feeling with the Royalists whose property had been diminished by past confiscations, and whose political and religious ideals had been thrown to the ground, there was, it is needless to say, nothing in Oliver's mind. They were but enemies to be crushed, or at least to be reduced to impotence.
That the Royalists had religious ideals of their own was a provocation which made it easy to deny them the toleration which they had hitherto virtually enjoyed. The familiar cadences of the Book of Common Prayer had become to them a symbol of political as well as of religious faith, whilst the voice of the often long-winded, and sometimes irrelevant ejaculator of prayers of his own conception, stood for them as the embodiment of the forces which had conspired to murder their king, to deprive them of the broad acres sold to satisfy the demands of sequestrators, and to exclude them from all share in the public interests of the country which they loved as devotedly as any Puritan could possibly do. It was now that Oliver committed the mistake—which thousands of others in like circumstances have committed—of confounding the symbol with the cause. The use of the Common Prayer Book was proscribed as thoroughly as the mass. Noblemen and gentlemen were prohibited from entertaining the ejected clergy of their own Church as chaplains or tutors of their children. Yet, after all, the persecution was sharp only for a time, and not only was the inquisition into the religious practices of domestic life soon abandoned, but the Episcopalian clergy were led to understand that no harm should befall them so long as they abstained from thrusting themselves upon the notice of the public.
It was not only in relation to religious toleration that Oliver was driven by his position to modify his earlier principles. At one time he had fully sympathised with the Independent party in its efforts to secure the liberty of the press. Of libels on his own character and person he had been widely tolerant. Step by step the Long Parliament had imposed restrictions on the press, and these restrictions were continued under the Protectorate. At last, in October, 1655, the final blow fell. Only two weekly newspapers were permitted to appear, and both these newspapers were to be edited by an agent of the Government. Milton, now incapacitated by blindness from active employment in the service of the State, must have winced at hearing that his chosen hero, who had long ago turned his back on a voluntary system of Churchgovernment, had now turned his back on the central doctrine of the Areopagitica. Oliver, we may be sure, took all these proceedings as a matter of course. He held himself to have been placed in the seat of authority not to advance the most beneficent theories, but toTceep order after the fashion of a constable in a discordant world. Neither Milton nor himself believed in tRe' political rights of majorities. If the nation chose to raise itself up against the cause of God, so much the worse for the nation. "I say," he had announced to his first Parliament, "that the wilful throwing away of this government—so owned by God, so approved by men, so testified to in the fundamentals of it—and that in relation to the good of these nations and posterity; I can sooner be willing to be rolled into my grave and buried with infamy, than I can give my consent unto." Oliver doubtless held that the partitioning of England into eleven districts, each under a military chief, was consistent with at least a literal observance of ' this Government,' as he himself had called it.
It is possible that if the Major-Generals had confined themselves to keeping watch over the Royalist gentry, with occasionally breaking up their religious meetings, and with driving away the chaplains and the tutors of their sons, they would have caused less irritation than they did. The army, however, or in plainer terms, the occupants of its higher posts, from the Lord Protector downwards, were the most systematic upholders of that aggressive Puritan morality, which was diluted with greater worldliness in other circles. It is no doubt untrue that Justices of the Peace, as has sometimes been suggested, were altogether inefficient during the Protectorate; but they were not loved by the Cavalier gentry, whose estates were often larger than their own; and, like all local authorities, they were hampered by the local feeling which, even amongst those who willingly accepted the Protectorate, was, though certainly not Episcopalian, far from being as acutely Puritan as was desired at head-quarters. A statute inflicting the penalty of death upon adulterers had been reduced almost to a dead letter by the unwillingness of juries to convict; and—to take an instance from the daily amusements of the people—the bear-garden at Southwark had survived the prohibition of one Puritan Government after another, till, a few weeks after the appointment of the Major-Generals, Pride, who had once blocked the doors of Parliament, slew the bears with his own hands, and closed the exhibition.
As to the Major-Generals themselves, they were soon instructed to tighten the reins of discipline, cooperating with willing and spurring unwilling magistrates to suppress not merely treason and rebellion, but vice and immorality. Their orders were to put down horse-racing, cock-fighting and other sports which brought together crowds of doubtful fidelity to the Government. They were told to promote godliness and virtue, and to see to the execution of the laws against drunkenness, blasphemy, swearing, play-acting, profanation of the Lord's Day, and so forth; and also to put down gaming-houses in Westminster and ale-houses in the country, lest evil and factious men should congregate in them. They were to keep an open eye on the beneficed clergy, calling for the ejection of those who either showed tendencies favourable to the Book of Common Prayer, or brought disgrace by laxity of conduct on the Puritanism they professed. During the first six or nine months of 1656, when these men ruled supreme, the anti-Puritan fervour which was before long to lay low both the Protectorate and the Commonwealth, ceased to be the special note of particular classes and rooted itself in general society, far outside the circle of ordinary royalism.