Diary of Thomas Burton Esq: Volume 1, July 1653 - April 1657. Originally published by H Colburn, London, 1828.
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The period of English history, from the opening of the Long Parliament to the Restoration, has been justly regarded as the most eventful and interesting which had occurred during the century. It was distinguished by the patriotic deeds of men, whom knowledge, energy, and discretion, had eminently qualified to dispute the claims of the crown, to an unlimited and irresponsible authority. Such had been, too long, the extravagant pretensions of that royal race, which an absurd notion of hereditary right, the intrigues of Elizabeth's courtiers, in her declining years, (fn. 1) and the Queen's dying donation, (fn. 2) (as if aggrandizing the son, to atone for the mother's blood,) had entailed on the acquiescing people of England.
That people were too little prepared to entertain the comprehensive views of their more enlightened advocates, to profit by their wisdom or to estimate their deserts. Yet they bore right onward. Neither dismayed by adverse fortune, nor deluded into security by success, they had at length disarmed the despotism of the Crown, and practically applied the maxim, to which a Prince endued with the spirit of a Trajan, (fn. 3) would have listened without emotion, that "kings may be cashiered for misconduct."
Among those statesmen and.warriors, Oliver Cromwell had become conspicuous. He might still have maintained himself on that good eminence, beloved and honoured as the first of citizens. Allured by ambition, he seized the opportunity to seat himself on the throne of kings ; (fn. 4) with most of whom, as a soldier or a sovereign, he could have been compared, only to enhance his reputation.
During six years of the period I have described, England and its dependencies were governed by the family of Cromwell. To those years, especially to preserve and illustrate what can now be recovered of their Parliamentary History, these volumes are devoted. I could not, however, have contemplated such an extent, when first preparing for the press the curious manuscript which has formed the principal part of this publication.
The Parliamentary Diary is ascertained, by various internal evidences, which will occur to the attentive reader, to have been written, in the House of Commons, by Thomas Burton, Esquire, M. P. for Westmoreland. It is _ now first printed from his original note-books, which came, a few years since, into the possession of Mr. Upcot, of the London Institution, (together with the lately published Correspondence of Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon,) and will be found to supply, to a considerable extent, the want of all Parliamentary Debates during the Protectorates.
Some part of this Diary had passed through the press, when I found in the British Museum, among the manuscripts there so liberally devoted to the advancement of literature and science, several speeches of the first Protector, apparently never printed. I also discovered a MS. volume, presented to the Museum by Mr. Tyrwhiti, the learned editor of Chaucer. This contained the diaries of Mr. Goddard, another member of the Protectoral Parliaments. In the following Introduction, I have preserved, verbatim, his summary report of the debates in the Parliament of 1654, and several Parliamentary papers; the existing printed notices of both, being few and very imperfect. Mr. Goddard's MS. has also enabled me to correct and complete, in numerous instances, Mr. Burton's report of the Parliamentary debates under the second Protectorate.
These valuable historical documents I have connected, by very concise notices of the more important political passages, during the intervals of Parliament; referring, in the notes, as led by the remarks or arguments of the speakers, to various events, chiefly political, through a period not less interesting, and more extended. The whole, indeed, of that portion of British history so long neglected, at first in compliment to the restored Royalty, has now begun to attract, among liberal-minded and judicious enquirers, the laudable curiosity, which its national importance always merited.
To an alphabetical list of speakers, with the places they represented, during the Interregnum, I purposed to have added some biographical notices. The pursuit of this design, which would form no unpleasing occupation, has been abandoned; or, could I allow myself to presume on "life's futurities," postponed, as extending too far, and unavoidably delaying, the present publication.
It would have been difficult, nor indeed, has it been attempted, to conceal the opinions which I have been able to form, on the theory or administration of government; great questions, which, in the age of the Protectorates, as they must continue in every age; were intimately connected with the happiness and improvement of human society. I have also allowed myself to expose, with a freedom for which I should be ashamed to apologize, that time-serving versatility, too often discovered in the story of the period which these volumes are designed to illustrate. Yet, even if charged with a disposition to "extenuate nothing," I shall not, I trust, be found to have "set down aught in malice."