Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 30.djvu/10
Southern Historical Society Papers.
In this dramatic reversal of an accepted verdict—this complete revision of opinions once deemed settled and immutable—there is, I submit, a lesson—an academic lesson. The present occasion is essentially educational. The Phi Beta Kappa oration, as it is called, is the last, the crowning utterance of the college year, and very properly is expected to deal with some fitting theme in a kindred spirit. I propose to do so to-day, but in a fashion somewhat exceptional. The phases of moral and intellectual growth through which the English race has passed on the subject cf Cromwell's statue afford, I submit, to the reflecting man an educational study of exceptional interest. In the first place, it was a growth of two centuries; in the second place, it marks the passage of a nation from an existence under the traditions of feudalism to one under the principles of self-government; finally, it illustrates the gradual development of that broad spirit of tolerance which, coming with time and study, meas--
carried to Westminster Abbey, and there buried "amongst kings." Two years then elapsed, and, on the twelfth anniversary of King Charles's execution, the remains of the usurper, having been previously disinterred by order of the newly restored king, were, by a unanimous vote of the Convention Parliament, hung at Tyburn. The trunk was then buried under the gallows, while Cromwell's head was set on a pole over the roof of Westminster Hall. Nearly two centuries of execration ensued, until, in the sixth generation, the earlier verdict was challenged, and the question at last asked: "Shall Cromwell have a statue?" Cromwell, the traitor, the usurper, the execrable murderer of the martyred Charles! At first, and for long, the suggestion was looked upon almost as an impiety, and, as such, scornfully repelled. Not only did the old loyal king-worship of England recoil from the thought, but, indignantly appealing to the church, it declared that no such distinction could be granted so long as there remained in the prayer-book a form of supplication for "King Charles, the Martyr," and of "praise and thanksgiving for the wonderful deliverance of these kingdoms from the great rebellion, and all the other miseries and oppressions consequent thereon, under which they had so long groaned." None the less, the demand was insistent, and at last, but only after two full centuries had elapsed and a third was well advanced, was the verdict of 1661 reversed. To-day the bronze effigy of Oliver Cromwell—massive in size, rugged in feature, characteristic in attitude—stands defiantly in the yard of that Westminster Hall, from a pole on top of which, twelve score years ago, the flesh crumbled from his skull.