[CROMWELL, Act III. sc. iv.]
by Victor Marie Hugo
Stay! I no longer can contain myself,
But cry you: Look on John, who bares his mind
To Oliver--to Cromwell, Milton speaks!
Despite a kindling eye and marvel deep
A voice is lifted up without your leave;
For I was never placed at council board
To speak _my_ promptings. When awed strangers come
Who've seen Fox-Mazarin wince at the stings
In my epistles--and bring admiring votes
Of learned colleges, they strain to see
My figure in the glare--the usher utters,
'Behold and hearken! that's my Lord Protector's
Cousin--that, his son-in-law--that next'--who cares!
Some perfumed puppet! 'Milton?' 'He in black--
Yon silent scribe who trims their eloquence!'
Still 'chronicling small-beer,'--such is my duty!
Yea, one whose thunder roared through martyr bones
Till Pope and Louis Grand quaked on their thrones,
And echoed 'Vengeance for the Vaudois,' where
The Sultan slumbers sick with scent of roses.
He is but the mute in this seraglio--
'Pure' Cromwell's Council!
But to be dumb and blind is overmuch!
Impatient Issachar kicks at the load!
Yet diadems are burdens painfuller,
And I would spare thee that sore imposition.
Dear brother Noll, I plead against thyself!
Thou aim'st to be a king; and, in thine heart,
What fool has said: 'There is no king but thou?'
For thee the multitude waged war and won--
The end thou art of wrestlings and of prayer,
Of sleepless watch, long marches, hunger, tears
And blood prolifically spilled, homes lordless,
And homeless lords! The mass must always suffer
That one should reign! the collar's but newly clamp'd,
And nothing but the name thereon is changed--
Master? still masters! mark you not the red
Of shame unutterable in my sightless white?
Still hear me, Cromwell, speaking for your sake!
These fifteen years, we, to you whole-devoted,
Have sought for Liberty--to give it thee?
To make our interests your huckster gains?
The king a lion slain that you may flay,
And wear the robe--well, worthily--I say't,
For I will not abase my brother!
No! I would keep him in the realm serene,
My own ideal of heroes! loved o'er Israel,
And higher placed by me than all the others!
And such, for tinkling titles, hollow haloes
Like that around yon painted brow--thou! thou!
Apostle, hero, saint-dishonor thyself!
And snip and trim the flag of Naseby-field
As scarf on which the maid-of-honor's dog
Will yelp, some summer afternoon! That sword
Shrink into a sceptre! brilliant bauble! Thou,
Thrown on a lonely rock in storm of state,
Brain-turned by safety's miracle, thou risest
Upon the tott'ring stone whilst ocean ebbs,
And, reeking of no storms to come to-morrow,
Or to-morrow--deem that a certain pedestal
Whereon thou'lt be adored for e'er--e'en while
It shakes--o'ersets the rider! Tremble, thou!
For he who dazzles, makes men Samson-blind,
Will see the pillars of his palace kiss
E'en at the whelming ruin! Then, what word
Of answer from your wreck when I demand
Account of Cromwell! glory of the people
Smothered in ashes! through the dust thou'lt hear;
'What didst thou with thy virtue?' Will it respond:
'When battered helm is doffed, how soft is purple
On which to lay the head, lulled by the praise
Of thousand fluttering fans of flatterers!
Wearied of war-horse, gratefully one glides
In gilded barge, or in crowned, velvet car,
From gay Whitehall to gloomy Temple Bar--'
(Where--had you slipt, that head were bleaching now!
And that same rabble, splitting for a hedge,
Had joined their rows to cheer the active headsman;
Perchance, in mockery, they'd gird the skull
With a hop-leaf crown! Bitter the brewing, Noll!)
Are crowns the end-all of ambition? Remember
Charles Stuart! and that they who make can break!
This same Whitehall may black its front with crape,
And this broad window be the portal twice
To lead upon a scaffold! Frown! or laugh!
Laugh on as they did at Cassandra's speech!
But mark--the prophetess was right! Still laugh,
Like the credulous Ethiop in his faith in stars!
But give one thought to Stuart, two for yourself!
In his appointed hour, all was forthcoming--
Judge, axe, and deathsman veiled! and my poor eyes
Descry--as would thou saw'st!--a figure veiled,
Uplooming there--afar, like sunrise, coming!
With blade that ne'er spared Judas 'midst free brethren!
Stretch not the hand of Cromwell for the prize
Meant not for him, nor his! Thou growest old,
The people are ever young! Like her i' the chase
Who drave a dart into her lover, embowered,
Piercing the incense-clouds, the popular shaft
May slay thee in a random shot at Tyranny!
Man, friend, remain a Cromwell! in thy name,
Rule! and if thy son be worthy, he and his,
So rule the rest for ages! be it grander thus
To be a Cromwell than a Carolus.
No lapdog combed by wantons, but the watch
Upon the freedom that we won! Dismiss
Your flatterers--let no harpings, no gay songs
Prevent your calm dictation of good laws
To guard, to fortify, and keep enlinked
England and Freedom! Be thine old self alone!
And make, above all else accorded me,
My most desired claim on all posterity,
That thou in Milton's verse wert foremost of the free!