Imágenes de páginas

support from the fact that he found a wife in London, marrying in 1620, at the early age of twenty-one, Elizabeth Bourchier, the daughter of a City merchant. The silence of contemporaries shows that, in an age when many women took an active part in politics, she confined herself to the sphere of domestic influence. The one letter of hers that is preserved displays not merely her affectionate disposition, but also her helpfulness in reminding her great husband of the necessity of performing those little acts of courtesy which men engaged in large affairs are sometimes prone to neglect. She was undoubtedly a model of female perfection after the Periclean standard.

Of Cromwell's early life for some years after his marriage we have little positive information. His public career was opened by his election in 1628 to sit for Huntingdon in the Parliament which insisted on the Petition of Right. Though his uncle had by this time left Hinchingbrooke, and could therefore have had no direct influence on the electors, it is quite likely that the choice of his fellow-townsmen was, to a great extent, influenced by their desire to show their attachment to a family with which they had long been in friendly relation.

Even so, however, it is in the highest degree improbable that Cromwell would have been selected by his neighbours, to whom every action of his life had been laid open, unless they had had reason to confide in his moral worth as well as in his aptitude for public business. Yet it is in this period of his life that, if Royalist pamphleteers are to be credited, Cromwell was wallowing in revolting profligacy, and the charge may seem to find some support from his own language in a subsequent letter to his cousin, Mrs. St. John: "You know," he wrote, "what my manner of life hath been. Oh! I lived in and loved darkness, and hated light, I was a chief—the chief of sinners. This is true, I hated godliness, yet God had mercy upon me." It has however never been wise to take the expressions of a converted penitent literally, and it is enough to suppose that Cromwell had been, at least whilst an undergraduate at Cambridge, a buoyant, unthinking youth, fond of outdoor exercise; though, on the other hand, whilst he never attained to proficiency as a scholar, he by no means neglected the authorised studies of the place. Much as opinion has differed on every other point in his character, there was never any doubt as to his love of horses and to his desire to encourage men of learning. It may fairly be argued that his tastes in either direction must have been acquired in youth.

One piece of evidence has indeed been put forward against Cromwell. On the register of St. John's parish at Huntingdon are two entries—one dated 1621, and the other 1628—stating that Cromwell submitted in those years to some form of Church censure. The formation of the letters, however, the absence of any date of month or day, and also the state of the parchment on which the entries occur, leave no reasonable doubt that they were the work of a forger. It does not follow that the forger had not a recollection that something of the kind had happened within local memory, and if we take it as possible that Cromwell was censured for 'his deeds,' whatever they may have been, in 1621, and that in 1628 he voluntarily acknowledged some offence—the wording of the forged entry gives some countenance to this deduction—may we not note a coincidence of date between the second entry and one in the diary of Sir Theodore Mayerne —the fashionable physician of the day—who notes that Oliver Cromwell, who visited him in September of that year, was valde melancholicus. Even if no heed whatever is to be paid to the St. John's register, Mayerne's statement enables us approximately to date that time of mental struggle which he passed through at some time in these years, and which was at last brought to an end when the contemplation of his own unworthiness yielded to the assurance of his Saviour's love. "Whoever yet," he wrote long afterwards to his daughter Bridget, "tasted that the Lord is gracious, without some sense of self, vanity and badness?" It was a crisis in his life which, if he had been born in the Roman communion, would probably have sent him—as it sent Luther—into a monastery. Being what he was, a Puritan Englishman, it left him with strong resolution to do his work in this world strenuously, and to help others in things temporal, as he himself had been helped in things spiritual.

English Puritanism, like other widely spread influences, was complex in its nature, leading to different results in different men. Intellectually it was based on the Calvinistic theology, and many were led on by it to the fiercest intolerance of all systems of thought and practice which were unconformable thereto. Cromwell's nature was too large, and his character too strong, to allow him long to associate himself with the bigots of his age. V His Puritanism—if not as universally sympathetic as a modern philosopher might wish —was moral rather than intellectual. No doubt it rendered him impatient of the outward forms in which the religious devotion of such contemporaries as George Herbert and Crashaw found appropriate sustenance, but at the same time it held him back from bowing down to the idol of the men of his own party—the requirement of accurate conformity to the Calvinistic standard of belief. It was sufficient for him, if he and his associates found inspiration in a sense of personal dependence on God, issuing forth in good and beneficent deeds.,

v When, in 1628, Cromwell took his seat in the House of Commons he would be sure of a good reception as a cousin of Hampden. There is, however, nothing to surprise us in his silence during the eventful debates on the Petition of Right. He was no orator by nature, though he could express himself forcibly when he felt deeply, and at this time, and indeed during the whole of his life, he felt more deeply on religious than on political questions; The House, in its second session held in 1629, was occupied during the greater portion of its time with religious questions, and it was then that Cromwell made his first speech, if so short an utterance can be dignified by that name, "Dr. Beard," he informed the House, "told him that one Dr. Alablaster did at the Spital preach in a sermon tenets of Popery, and Beard being to repeat the same, the now Bishop of Winton, then Bishop of Lincolni did send for Dr. Beard, and charged him as his diocesan, not to preach any doctrine contrary to that which Alablaster had delivered, and when Beard did, by the advice of Bishop Felton, preach against Dr. Alablaster's sermon and person, Dr. Neile, now Bishop of Winton, did reprehend him, the said Beard, for it."

The circumstances of the time give special biographical importance to the opening of this window into Cromwell's mind. The strife between the Puritan clergy and the Court prelates was waxing high. The latter, whilst anxious to enforce discipline, and the external usages which, though enjoined in the Prayer Book, had been neglected in many parts of the country, were at the same time contending for a

« AnteriorContinuar »