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'Chapel' or secret Puritan Sermon-room in the lower story of the house no Sermon-room, as you may well discern, but to appearance some sort of scullery or wash-house or bake-house. "It was here he used to preach," say they. Courtesy forbids you to answer, "Never!" But in fact there is no likelihood that this was Oliver's House at all; in its present state it does not seem to be a century old ;* and originally, as is like, it must have served as residence to the Proprietors of Slepe-Hall estate, not to the Farmer of a part thereof. Tradition makes a sad blur of Oliver's memory in his native country! We know, and shall know, only this, for certain here, That Oliver farmed part or whole of these Slepe-Hall Lauds, over which the human feet can still walk with assurance; past which the River Ouse still slumberously rolls, towards Earith Bulwark and the Fen-country. Here of a certainty Oliver did walk and look about him habitually, during those five years from 1631 to 1636; a man studious of many temporal and many eternal things. His cattle grazed here, his ploughs tilled here, the heavenly skies and infernal abysses overarched and underarched him here.
In fact there is, as it were, nothing whatever that still decisively to every eye attests his existence at St. Ives, except the following old Letter, accidentally preserved among the Harley Manuscripts in the British Museum. Noble, writing in 1787, says the old branding-irons, 'O. C.,' for marking sheep, were still used by some Farmer there; but these also, many years ago, are gone. In the Parish-records of St. Ives, Oliver appears twice among some other ten or twelve respectable rate-payers; appointing, in 1633 and 1634, for St. Ives cum Slepa' fit annual overseers for the 'Highway and Green :'-one of the Oliver Signatures is now Fifty years ago, a vague old Townclerk had heard from very vague old persons, that Mr. Cromwell had been seen attending divine service in the Church with 'a piece of red flannel round his neck, being subject to inflammation.'t Certain letters 'written in a very kind style from Oliver Lord Protector to persons in St. Ives,' do not now exist; probably never did. Swords '
* Noble, i., 102, 106.
† See Noble: his confused gleanings and speculations concerning St. Ives are to be found, i., 105-6, and again, i., 258-61.
the initials of O. C.,' swords sent down in the beginning of 1642, when War was now imminent, and weapons were yet scarce,-do any such still exist? Noble says they were numerous in 1787 but nobody is bound to believe him. Walker* testifies that the Vicar of St. Ives, Rev. Henry Downet, was ejected with his curate in 1642; an act which Cromwell could have hindered, had he been willing to testify that they were fit clergymen. Alas, had he been able! He attended them in red flannel, but had not exceedingly rejoiced in them, it would seem.-There is, in short, nothing that renders Cromwell's existence completely visible to us, even through the smallest chink, but this Letter alone, which, copied from the Museum Manuscripts, worthy Mr. Harris† has printed for all people. We slightly rectify the spelling and reprint.
To my very loving friend Mr. Storie, at the Sign of the Dog in the Royal Exchange, London: Deliver these.
St. Ives, 11th January, 1635.
Amongst the catalogue of those good works which your fellow-citizens and our countrymen have done, this will not be reckoned for the least, That they have provided for the feeding of souls. Building of hospitals provides for men's bodies; to build material temples is judged a work of piety; but they that procure spiritual food, they that build up spiritual temples, they are the men truly charitable, truly pious. Such a work as this was your erecting the Lecture in our Country; in the which you placed Dr. Wells, a man of goodness and industry, and ability to do good every way: not short of any I know in England: and I am persuaded that, sithence his coming, the Lord hath by him wrought much good among us.
It only remains now that He who first moved you to this, put you forward in the continuance thereof: it was the Lord; and therefore to Him lift we up our hearts that He would perfect it. And surely, Mr. Storie,
* Sufferings of the Clergy.
† Life of Cromwell: a blind farrago, published in 1761, after the manner of Mr. Bayle,'-a very bad manner,' more especially when a Harris presides over it! Yet poor Harris's Book, his three Books (on Cromwell, Charles and James I.) have worth: cartloads of Excerpts carefully transcribed,— and edited, in the way known to us, by shoving up the shafts.' The increasing interest of the subject brought even these to a second edition in 1814.
it were a piteous thing to see a Lecture fall, in the hands of so many able and godly men, as I am persuaded the founders of this are; in these times, wherein we see they are suppressed, with too much haste and violence, by the enemies of God's Truth. Far be it that so much guilt should stick to your hands, who live in a City so renowned for the clear shining light of the Gospel. You know, Mr. Storie, to withdraw the pay is to let fall the Lecture; for who goeth to warfare at his own cost? I beseech you therefore in the bowels of Jesus Christ, put it forward, and let the good man have his pay. The souls of God's children will bless you for it and so shall I; and ever rest,
Your loving Friend in the Lord,
Commend my hearty love to Mr. Busse, Mr. Beadly, and my other good friends. I would have written to Mr. Busse: but I was loath to trouble him with a long letter, and I feared I should not receive an answer from him: from you I expect one so soon as conveniently you may. Vale.*
Such is Oliver's first extant Letter. The Royal Exchange has been twice burned since this piece of writing was left at the Sign of the Dog there. The Dog Tavern, Dog Landlord, frequenters of the Dog, and all their business and concernment there, and the hardest stone masonry they had, have vanished irrecoverable. Like a dream of the Night; like that transient Sign or Effigies of the Talbot Dog, plastered on wood with oil pigments, which invited men to liquor and house-room in those days! The personages of Oliver's Letter may well be unknown
Of Mr. Story, strangely enough, we have found one other notice he is amongst the Trustees, pious and wealthy citizens of London for most part, to whom the sale of Bishops' Lands is, by act of Parliament, committed, with many instructions and conditions, on the 9th of October, 1646.† James Story' is one of these; their chief is Alderman Fowke. From Oliver's ex
* Harris (London, 1814), p. 12. This Letter, for which Harris, in 1761, thanks the Trustees of the British Museum,' is not now to be found in that Establishment; 'a search of three hours through all the Catalogues, assisted by one of the Clerks,' reports itself to me as fruitless.
Scobell's Acts and Ordinances (London, 1658), p. 99.
pression, our Country,' it may be inferred or guessed that Story was of Huntingdonshire: a man who had gone up to London, and prospered in trade, and addicted himself to Puritanism ;much of him, it is like, will never be known! Of Busse and Beadly (unless Busse be a misprint for Bunse, Alderman Bunce, another of the above Trustees'), there remains no vestige.
Concerning the 'Lecture,' however, the reader will recall what was said above, of Lecturers, and of Laud's enmity to them; of the Feoffees who supported Lecturers, and of Laud's final suppression and ruin of those Feoffees in 1633. Mr. Story's name is not mentioned in the List of the specific Feoffees; but it need not be doubted he was a contributor to their fund, and probably a leading man among the subscribers. By the light of this Letter we may dimly gather that they still continued to subscribe, and to forward Lectureships where possible, though now in a less ostentatious manner.
It appears there was a Lecture at Huntingdon : but his Grace of Lambeth, patiently assiduous in hunting down such objects, had managed to get that suppressed in 1633,* or at least to get the King's consent for suppressing it. This in 1633. So that 'Mr. Wells' could not, in 1636, as my imbecile friend supposes,† be 'the Lecturer in Huntingdon,' wherever else he might lecture. Besides Mr. Wells is not in danger of suppression by Laud, but by want of cash! Where Mr. Wells lectured, no mortal knows, or will ever know. Why not at St. Ives on the market-days? Or he might be a 'Running Lecturer,' not tied to one locality: that is as likely a guess as any.
Whether the call of this Wells Lectureship and Oliver's Letter got due return from Mr. Story we cannot now say; but judge that the Lectureship,-as Laud's star was rapidly on the ascendant, and Mr. Story and the Feoffees had already lost 1,8007. by the work, and had a fine in the Starchamber still hanging over their heads,—did in fact come to the ground, and trouble no Archbishop or Market Cattle-dealer with God's Gospel any more. Mr. Wells, like the others, vanishes from History, or nearly so. In the chaos of the King's Pamphlets one seems to discern dimly
* Wharton's Laud (London, 1695), p. 527.
† Noble, i., 259.
that he sailed for New England, and that he returned in better times. Dimly once, in 1641 or 1642, you catch a momentary glimpse of a 'Mr. Wells' in such predicament, and hope it was this Wells, preaching for a friend, 'in the afternoon,' in a Church in London.*
Reverend Mark Noble says, the above Letter is very curious, and a convincing proof how far gone Oliver was, at that time, in religious enthusiasm.† Yes, my reverend imbecile friend, he is clearly one of those singular Christian enthusiasts, who believe that they have a soul to be saved, even as you do, my reverend imbecile friend, that you have a stomach to be satisfied, and who likewise, astonishing to say, actually take some trouble about that. Far gone indeed, my reverend imbecile friend!
This then is what we know of Oliver at St. Ives. He wrote the above Letter there. He had sold his Properties at Huntingdon for 1,8007.; with the whole or with part of which sum he stocked certain Grazing-Lands on the Estate of Slepe Hall, and farmed the same for a space of some five years. How he lived at St. Ives: how he saluted men on the streets; read Bibles; sold cattle; and walked, with heavy footfall and many thoughts, through the Market Green or old narrow lanes in St. Ives, by the shore of the black Ouse River,-shall be left to the reader's imagination. There is in this man talent for farming; there are thoughts enough, thoughts bounded by the Ouse River, thoughts that go beyond Eternity,—and a great black sea of things that he has never yet been able to think.
I count the children he had at the time; and find them six: Four boys and two girls; the eldest a boy of fourteen, the youngest a girl of six: Robert, Oliver, Bridget, Richard, Henry, Elizabeth. Robert and Oliver, I take it, are gone to Felsted School, near Bourchier their Grandfather's in Essex. Sir Thomas Bouchier the worshipful Knight, once of London, lives at Felsted; Sir William Masham, another of the same, lives at Otes, hard by, as we shall see.
Cromwell at the time of writing this Letter was, as he him
* Old Pamphlet: Title mislaid and forgotten.
† Noble, i., 259.