The Worlds Famous Orations. Great Britain: I. (7101777). 1906.
On the Condition of England
Sir John Eliot (15921632)
Born in 1592, died in 1632; became in 1625 an Opposition orator in the first parliament of Charles I.; imprisoned in 1626, by order of the king, but released when parliament refused to proceed without him; took a leading part in drafting the Petition of Right in 1628; arrested in 1629 and sent to the Tower, where he died.
WE1 sit here as the great council of the king, and, in that capacity it is our duty to take into consideration the state and affairs of the kingdom; and, where there is occasion, to give them in a true representation by way of council and advice, what we conceive necessary or expedient for them.
In this consideration, I confess, many a sad thought has frighted me: and that not only in respect of our dangers from abroad, which yet I know are great, as they have been often in this place prest and dilated to us; but in respect of our disorders here at home, which do inforce those dangers, as by them they were occasioned.
For I believe I shall make it clear to you, that as at first the causes of those dangers were our disorders, our disorders still remain our greatest dangers. It is not now so much the potency of our enemies, as the weakness of ourselves, that threatens us; and that saying of the Father may be assumed by us, Non tam potentia sua quam negligentia nostra. Our want of true devotion to Heaven, our insincerity and doubling in religion, our want of councils, our precipitate actions, the insufficiency or unfaithfulness of our generals abroad, the ignorance or corruption of our ministers at home, the impoverishing of the sovereign, the oppression and depression of the subject, the exhausting of our treasures, the waste of our provisions, consumption of our ships, destruction of our menthese make the advantage to our enemies, not the reputation of their arms. And if in these there be not reformation, we need no foes abroad! Time itself will ruin us.
You will all hold it necessary that what I am about to urge seem not an aspersion on the state or imputation on the government, as I have known such mentions misinterpreted. Far is it from me to purpose this, that have none but clear thoughts of the excellency of his majesty, nor can have other ends but the advancement of his glory.
For the first, then, our insincerity and doubting in religion, the greatest and most dangerous disorder of all others, which has never been unpunished, and for which we have so many strange examples of all states and in all times to awe us,what testimony does it want? Will you have authority of books? Look on the collections of the committee for religion; there is too clear an evidence. Will you have records? See then the commission procured for composition with the papists in the North? Note the proceedings thereupon. You will find them to little less amounting than a toleration in effect, tho upon some slight payments; and the easiness in them will likewise show the favor that is intended. Will you have proofs of men? Witness the hopes, witness the presumptions, witness the reports of all the papists generally. Observe the dispositions of commands, the trust of officers, the confidence of secrecies of employments, in this kingdom, in Ireland, and elsewhere. They will all show it has too great a certainty. And to these add but the introconvertible evidence of that all-powerful hand which we have felt so sorely, to give it full assurance! For as the Heavens oppose themselves to us, it was our impieties that first opposed the Heavens.
For the second, our want of councils, that great disorder in a State with which there can not be stability, if effects may show their causes, as they are often a perfect demonstration of them, our misfortunes, our disasters, serve to prove it! And (if reason be allowed in this dark age, by the judgment of dependencies, the foresight of contingencies, in affairs) the consequences they draw with them confirm it. For, if we view ourselves at home, are we in strength, are we in reputation, equal to our ancestors? If we view ourselves abroad, are our friends as many, are our enemies no more? Do our friends retain their safety and possessions? Do our enemies enlarge themselves, and gain from them and us? What council, to the loss of the Palatinate, sacrificed both our honor and our men sent thither, stopping those greater powers appointed for that service, by which it might have been defensible? What council gave directions to that late action whose wounds lie yet a bleeding. I mean the expedition unto Rhée,2 of which there is yet so sad a memory in all men! What design for us, or advantage to our State, could that work import? You know the wisdom of our ancestors, the practise of their times; and how they preserved their safeties! We all know, and have as much cause to doubt as they had, the greatness and ambition of that kingdom, which the Old World could not satisfy! Against this greatness and ambition we likewise know the proceedings of that princess, that never to be forgotten excellence, Queen Elizabeth; whose name, without admiration, falls not into mention with her enemies. You know how she advanced herself, how she advanced this kingdom, how she advanced this nation, in glory and in State; how she depressed her enemies, how she upheld her friends; how she enjoyed a full security, and made them then our scorn, who now are made our terror!
Then, that this treble cord, so wrought between France, the States, and us, might enable us, as occasion should require, to give assistance unto others; by which means, the experience of that time doth tell us, we were not only free from those fears that now possess and trouble us, but then our names were fearful to our enemies. See now what correspondence our action hath had with this.
Square it by these rules. It did induce as a necessary consequence the division in France between the Protestants and their king, of which there is too woful, too lamentable an experience. It has made an absolute breach between that State and us; and so entertains us against France, France in preparation against us, that we have nothing to promise to our neighbors, hardly for ourselves. Nay, but observe the time in which it was attempted, and you shall find it not only varying from those principles, but directly contrary and opposite ex diametro to those ends; and such as from the issue and success rather might be thought a conception of Spain than begotten here with us.3
Mr. Speaker, I am sorry for this interruption, but much more sorry if there have been occasion; wherein, as I shall submit myself wholly to your judgment to receive what censure you shall give me if I have offended, so in the integrity of my intentions, and clearness of my thoughts, I must still retain this confidence, that no greatness may deter me from the duties which I owe to the service of the country, the service of the king. With a true English heart, I shall discharge myself as faithfully and as really, to the extent of my poor powers, as any man whose honors or whose offices most strictly have obliged him.
You know the dangers Denmark was then in, and how much they concerned us; what in respect of our alliance with that country, what in the importance of the Sound; what an acquisition to our enemies the gain thereof would be, what loss, what prejudice to us! By this division, we, breaking upon France, France being engaged by us, and the Netherlands at amazement between both, neither could intend to aid that luckless king whose loss is our disaster.
Can those now, that express their troubles at the hearing of these things, and have so often told us in this place of their knowledge in the conjunctures and disjunctures of affairs, say they advised in this? Was this an act of council, Mr. Speaker? I have more charity than to think it; and unless they make a confession of themselves, I can not believe it.
What shall I say? I wish there were not cause to mention it; and, but out of apprehension of the danger that is to come if the like choice hereafter be not now prevented, I could willingly be silent. But my duty to my sovereign and to the service of this House, the safety and the honor of my country, are above all respects; and what so nearly trenches to the prejudice of these, may not, shall not, be forborne.
For the next undertaking, at Rhée, I will not trouble you much; only this in short: Was not that whole action carried against the judgment and opinions of the officersthose that were of council? Was not the first, was not the last, was not all, in the landing, in the intrenching, in the continuance there, in the assault, in the retreat? Did any advice take place of such as were of the council? If there should be a particular disquisition thereof, these things would be manifest, and more. I will not instance now the manifestation that was made for the reason of these arms; nor by whom, nor in what manner, nor on what grounds it was published; nor what effects it has wrought, drawing, as you know, almost all the whole world into league against us! Nor will I mention the leaving of the mines, the leaving of the salt, which were in our possession, and of a value, as it is said, to have answered much of our expense. Nor that great wonder, which nor Alexander nor Cæsar ever did, the enriching of the enemy by courtesies when the soldiers wanted help! nor the private intercourses and parlies with the fort, which continually were held. What they intended may be read in the success, and upon due examination thereof they would not want the proofs. For the last voyage to Rochelle, there needs no observation; it is so fresh in memory. Nor will I make an inference or corollary on all. Your own knowledge shall judge what truth, or what sufficiency they express.
For the next, the ignorance or corruption of our ministers, where can you miss of instances? If you survey the court, if you survey the country, if the church, if the city be examined; if you observe the bar, if the bench; if the courts, if the shipping; if the land, if the seasall these will render you variety of proofs. And in such measure and proportion as shows the greatness of our sickness, that if it have not some speedy application for remedy, our case is most desperate.
Mr. Speaker, I fear I have been too long in these particulars that are past, and am unwilling to offend you; therefore in the rest I shall be shorter. And in that which concerns the impoverishing the king, no other arguments will I use than such as all men grant.
The exchequer you know is empty, the reputation thereof gone! The ancient lands are sold, the jewels pawned, the plate engaged, the debt still great, and almost all charges, both ordinary and extraordinary, borne by projects! What poverty can be greater? What necessity so great? What perfect English heart is not almost dissolved into sorrow for the truth?
For the oppression of the subject, which, as I remember, is the next particular I proposed, it needs no demonstration. The whole kingdom is a proof. And for the exhausting of our treasures, that oppression speaks it. What waste of our provisions, what consumption of our ships, what destruction of our men, have been,witness the journey to Algiers!4 Witness that with Mansfield! Witness that to Cadiz! Witness the next! Witness that to Rhée! Witness the last! (And I pray God we may never have more such witnesses.) Witness likewise the Palatinate! Witness Denmark! Witness the Turks! Witness the Dunkirkers! Witness all! What losses we have sustained! How we are impaired in munition, in ships, in men! It has no contradiction! We were never so much weakened, nor had less hope how to be restored!
These, Mr. Speaker, are our dangers; these are they do threaten us, and are like that Trojan horse brought in cunningly to surprise us! For in these do lurk the strongest of our enemies ready to issue on us; and if we do not now the more speedily expel them, these will be the sign and invitation to the others. They will prepare such entrance that we shall have no means left of refuge or defense; for if we have these enemies at home, how can we strive with those that are abroad? But if we be free from these, no others can impeach us! Our ancient English virtue, that old Spartan valor, cleared from these disorders; being in sincerity of religion once made friends with Heaven; having maturity of councils, sufficiency of generals, incorruption of officers, opulency in the king, liberty in the people, repletion in treasures, restitution of provisions, reparation of ships, preservation of menour ancient English virtue, I say thus rectified, will secure us.
These things, sir, I shall desire to have taken into consideration. That as we are the great council of the kingdom, and have the apprehension of these dangers, we may truly represent them to the king; wherein I conceive we are bound by a treble obligation of duty unto God, of duty to his majesty, and of duty to our country.
And therefore I wish it may so stand with the wisdom and judgment of the house, that they may be drawn into the body of a Remonstrance, and there with all humility expressed; with a prayer unto his majesty, that for the safety of himself, for the safety of the kingdom, for the safety of religion, he will be pleased to give us time to make perfect inquisition thereof; or to take them into his own wisdom and there give them such timely reformation as the necessity of the cause, and his justice do import. And thus, sir, with a large affection and loyalty to his majesty, and with a firm duty and service to my country, I have suddenly, and it may be with some disorder, expressed the weak apprehensions I have, wherein if I have erred, I humbly crave your pardon, and so submit it to the censure of the House.
Note 1. Delivered in the House of Commons, June 3, 1628. Corrected by Eliot himself while imprisoned in the Tower for the third time. Here abridged and printed by permission of Messrs. Longmans, Green & Co. [back]
Note 2. A reference to Buckinghams disastrous expedition during the siege of La Rochelle. [back]
Note 3. Buckinghams intrigues with Spain are here referred to. Eliots remark produced a sensation at the time, but the outcome of it showed that he had his listeners in a majority with him. [back]
Note 4. An expedition in which more than thirty English ships were destroyed and their crews made slaves. [back]