Burton, Thomas (DNB00)

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BURTON, THOMAS (fl. 1656–1659), reputed parliamentary diarist, was a justice of the peace for Westmoreland. He was returned to parliament as member for the county on 20 Aug. 1656. On 16 Oct. 1656 he was called upon by the parliament to answer a charge of disaffection towards the existing government, which he did to the satisfaction of the house (Parl. Hist. pp. 439–40). Burton was re-elected for Westmoreland to Richard Cromwell's parliament (which met on 27 Jan. 1658–9 and was dissolved on 22 April 1659). He did not sit in parliament after the Restoration. Although he spoke seldom, he is assumed to have been a regular attendant in the house, and has been identified as the author of a diary of all its proceedings from 1656 to 1659. In this record the speeches are given in the oratio recta, and it is therefore to be inferred that the writer prepared his report in the house itself. The ‘Diary,’ in the form in which it is now known, opens abruptly on Wednesday, 3 Dec. 1656. It is continued uninterruptedly till 26 June 1657. A second section deals with the period between 20 Jan. 1657–8 and 4 Feb. 1657–8, and a third with that between 27 Jan. 1658–9 and 22 April 1659. The ‘Diary’ was first printed in 1828, by J. T. Rutt, from the author's notebooks, which had come into the possession of Mr. Upcot, librarian of the London Institution. These manuscripts, which form six oblong 12mo volumes, are now in the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 15859–64), and bear no author's name. The editor prefixed extracts from the ‘Journal’ of Guibon Goddard, M.P. (Addit. MS. 5138, ff. 285 et seq.), dealing with the parliament of 1654. The identity of the author of the ‘Diary’ can only be discovered by internal evidence. At vol. ii. p. 159 he writes (30 May 1657), ‘Sir William Strickland and I moved that the report for the bill for York River be now made.’ On 1 June Sir William Strickland's colleague is stated to be ‘Mr. Burton,’ and the only member of the name in the house at the time was Thomas Burton, M.P. for Westmoreland. But Carlyle (Cromwell, iv. 239–40) has pointed out that the writer speaks of himself in the first person as sitting on two parliamentary committees (ii. 346, 347, 404) in the list of whose members given in the ‘Commons Journals’ (vii. 450, 580, 588) Burton's name is not found. The evidence of authorship is very conflicting, and suggests that more than one member of parliament was concerned in it. Carlyle asserts that Nathaniel Bacon, 1593–1660 [q. v.], has a better claim to the work than Burton, but this assertion is controvertible. The diarist was a mere reporter, and Carlyle, whilst frequently quoting him, treats his lack of imagination with the bitterest disdain. ‘A book filled … with mere dim inanity and moaning wind.’

Burton's Parliamentary Diary (1828), vols. i–iv.; Names of M.P.s, pt. i. pp. 504–6; Carlyle's Cromwell, iv. 240.]

S. L. L.