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CROMWELL'S CONTEMPORARIES: JOHN PYM.
S in a great picture, while some central character
stands in the foreground, and is evidently understood to be the towering and commanding spirit around whom ultimately all the inferior characters revolve, yet nearer or more remote, more conspicuous or more dimly seen, a number of persons take their place on the canvas; so in the life of Cromwell there were precursors, heralds, men with whom he laboured, men who passed away, and left him, lonely, to meditate upon what they had done, and to take his own course as to what he must do. Lord Beaconsfield once said of Sir Robert Peel, that he was the greatest member of Parliament that ever lived. It was an amazing estimate, and in the memory of such men as Walpole, and the elder and the younger Pitt, not to mention more recent names, it must be regarded as an astonishing exaggeration ; but there was a man during the vexed years of which we are writing of whom this might most truly be said. John Pym is, probably, the name of the greatest member of Parliament that ever lived ; "King Pym" they called him in his own time, and indeed he looks, among the circumstances of his age, like the monarch of the scene. Like all of those men whom Charles managed to make his enemies, Pym was a gentleman, born of a good old family in Somersetshire, in the year 1584; he studied at Oxford in Pembroke College, but like Hampden and Vane and Cromwell, he left his University without taking his degree. Milton was almost the only exception, he took his B.A. and his M.A. Pym was very early distinguished for his eloquence and knowledge of common law; he soon took his seat in Parliament, serving in those held during the close of the reign of James I., and all those held in the reign of Charles I. It is true, that which has been so often said, that no business was too large, and none too small, for him. As one after another the men appear before our eyes with whom Charles I. arrayed himself in conflict, one cannot but feel pity for the king: in every way he seems so small and they appear so great. Of them all, to some Pym has seemed the greatest ; and after his life of conflict, “he was buried,” says Lord Bulwer Lytton, "at Westminster, amongst the monuments of kings feebler and less despotic than himself." It is said that he, too, in the earlier period of his career, was one of those who despaired of his country, and with Cromwell, Hampden, and others, desired to embark for America; the tradition is, as our readers doubtless know, that the ships in which they were about to sail were detained by order of Council. However this might be, it was Pym who at last, in the Long Parliament, attempted the great work of reformation ; and Lord Clarendon recites a conversation he had with Pym in Westminster Hall, apparently in the early days of the Long Parliament, in which Pym said, “ They must now be of another temper than they were the last Parliament; that they must not only sweep the House clean below, but must pull down all the cobwebs which hung in the top and corners, that they might not breed dust and so make a foul House hereafter; that they now had an opportunity to make their country happy by removing all grievances, and pulling up the causes of them by the roots, if all men would do their duties."
This Parliament met; it was long, many years, since Parliament had assembled last. What gaps Pym would notice in the lines of his early friends who had sat there when the House then assembled. The venerable Coke was dead; Sir John Eliot had died in prison, a martyr to the cause of which they had both been champions ; Sir Thomas Wentworth, who had started in life with the same party, had fallen awayhe was an apostate, he was now the Earl of Strafford, regarded as a fallen spirit, and as the deadliest, the most powerful and dangerous enemy of those who had been the friends of his youth. All these circumstances would add, if anything were needed to add, intensity and vehemence to his convictions and his determinations. It was Pym who commenced in this Parliament, and rapidly pushed on, the discussion of the grievances which oppressed the country; and
on the 7th of November, the first day on which the House attended to business, it was Pym who made a long and elaborate speech, classing the grievances under privilege of Parliament, Religion, and Liberty of the Subject. On the nith he made a sudden motion to the House with reference to that which had come to his knowledge of the imperious actions of Strafford both in England and in Ireland ; and while at this very moment a message came from the Lords concerning a treaty with the Scots, and desiring a meeting of a Committee of both Houses that afternoon, it was at the instance of Pym a message was returned to the Lords that the House had taken into consideration their message, but that they were in agitation upon weighty and important business, that they could not give them the meeting they desired on that afternoon, but they would shortly send an answer by messengers of their own. And messengers they shortly sent, Pym himself being the chief, who was chosen to carry up on that very day the impeachment of Strafford for high treason. Dr. Southey calls the impeachment and the death of Strafford one of the deadly sins of the Long Parliament. The question may be asked, then, Why was Strafford impeached? Why did he suffer death? In one word, because he advised the king to resist his subjects, and to be so independent of and paramount over law, as to call in the aid of Irish forces, or any forces, to subdue his country: a dreadful counsel which, when we remember, we cannot but marvel at the apologists for its baseness. He, without doubt, advised the king that he was now absolved from all rule of Government, and entitled to supply himself out of the estates of his subjects without their consent. Did space permit, we ought to devote a more lengthy episode to the life and career of Strafford; he was a great man, but he was no match for Pym. As to the wisdom of his death, we shall forbear to express an opinion; he might have been banished, but everywhere, whilst he lived, he must have been dangerous. Upon all this we need only dwell for the purpose of pointing out how Pym was the animating spirit in those transactions which brought about such tremendous results. It was after this that the king, no doubt attempting the dangerous work of reprisals and revenge, attempted to attach Pym and the other members for high treason. The attempt failed most miserably; but it should be remembered that when Pym commenced even his more aggressive career he was a moderate man. The king urged these men along, by his unwisdom and imprudence, on the course they were compelled to take; and thus Pym was rapidly carried along in a course of action far outstripping the theoretical opinions he professed to hold. He insisted originally on the sanctity of the Constitution, and he laboured to maintain it; but,