Living In The Commonwealth of England: A Short Story
Monday, October 15th, 1654. Day 1.
Though it may not be advantageous to do so, desperate (and desolate) times call for desperate measures. As I walked into the Parliament on this day, I was greeted with a young man selling empty books which he described as essential for interpreting the Bible. While I was not convinced by his sales pitch, the price of such an item was so low that I simply had to purchase it, or never see a similar offer again. Now I sit, in the building I was rushing to enter, openly writing out of mere boredom. What times we live in since the civil war!
Looking at it through my own eyes, I can safely say (and hopefully write) that living in this new Commonwealth of England was not nearly as glamorous as our Lord Protector had made it out to be. Now, when I sit in the House of Commons, as I am now, I say nary a word, not out of fear, mind you, but in the best interests of my own sanity. Nothing was getting done anymore, and that, among other reasons, was why I woke up so late in the morning, unlike my usual self. My wife, being the one who tends the bed after I wake, knows this more than anyone. On this morn specifically she requested upon me that I would not let the misdeeds of others affect me. All it took was one look upon her, and she instantly understood, in the same way that she did when she had to dispose of all her make-up, as per the Lord Protector’s request. Though the risk of having soldiers remove her makeup in public could have also been a deterrent. It was one of the requirements of living in a Puritan society. The others? No unnecessary merriment, meaning no theatres and only a few inns, those that I assume have an included church.
I used to go out on Sunday walks after the church service with my wife, and those moments were the kindling that lead to our blissful marriage. However, since the Lord Protector took over, Sundays are for spiritual endeavors only. Walks are only allowed if they are to and from church, and since we live next to one, we have not had time to live as we had all those years ago. It gives me sorrow to see how much the needle has moved from what I thought living under Oliver Cromwell would be. Sigh. There goes another argument turning into a scuffle. And the commoners wonder why new laws haven’t been passed. I guess it’s just the result of uniting a group of people (if loosely) for one purpose – after the goal is achieved, there’s little to no control. The last thing I can clearly remember passing was the act declaring Charles I a traitor. Seven whole years have passed.
In that time, I became a member of the shortly-lived “Rump” Parliament, which dissolved because they didn’t write any meaningful legislation, and what they did was primarily to protect themselves. Then we were replaced with a “barebones” Parliament which was essentially a large House of Lords. However it did at least pass necessary laws, before being abolished for no seemingly good reason. Now, under Oliver Cromwell’s “Instrument of Government,” a proper Parliament has returned. Though, as I say this, I can remember when this new Parliament first met back in September, and most of the returning members only seemed interested in having a Rump Parliament redux.
But as much as this topic makes me lose my temper, there are other things left to wonder about. For example, once arriving in the town square in my hackney carriage this morning, the steeds seemed to become ever more anxious. Maybe it was the black, admittedly drab dress that all others around me had on. Maybe it was smallpox that was getting to them. Either possibility is simply an unavoidable aspect of this modern life. Personally, I’m not even considering the coming winter months as options.
All I would love after this hard day of writing (because, frankly, I will write no laws at any point in my immediate future) is for my chef to make a kickshaw meal. Consequently, in a conversation with him I had earlier this week, he told me that kickshaw is not a French word, but he knows what I mean when I speak. This morning he made the best cup of what he calls coffee – directly from Turkish lands, I might add, and I almost felt greedy for wanting to consume the last drop of it. I might even ask for it again when I return. Anything but being in this never-ending cockfight would be the better choice.
I shall leave this first entry on this: I hope that this description of my everyday life in this turbulent time will share my true feelings with whomever the reader ends up being. That is, if this book still exists after so long.
Tuesday, October 16th, 1654. Day 2.
I have left this book with little written today because we, surprisingly, had something notable to vote about. The topic was the succession rules for the Lord Protector, specifically whether it should be an elected or hereditary role. Given as Lord Protector Cromwell already seems to have all the powers of a king, giving his son automatic rule at his death would be akin to making him one. And isn’t that what we worked so hard to escape? John Lambert, who wrote our Instrument of Government, seems fond of the idea of keeping it hereditary. Considering he’s so close to Cromwell, one can only imagine why.
In unrelated news, I invited good old friend of mine, John Gubbins, who I haven’t seen in years, to join us for dinner on Saturday. Though I could have met him at a coffee house, he lives too far for it to be any sort of convenient. I had heard from another man that he had become a Quaker since I had last seen him, and so the real reason for this meeting was to see if it was true. Mainly, I would like to know how he lives considering that Quakers are not fondly looked upon. If he tells me, I shall write my findings back in this book. For now, I must read the local gazette, as it has quickly become a custom of mine.
Wednesday, October 17th, 1654. Day 3.
I went decidedly out of schedule today as I invited one of the few others in Parliament who, for lack of a better phrase, doesn’t have their head up their behind to coffee. George Kindling, a man who speaks very plainly about topics as thick as politics, seemed eager to discuss it. He did offer to gamble, but I declined, stating that I had seen too many a good man go bad as a result. Gambling was, strangely, considering we were under a Puritan ruler, a part of our society nonetheless. Charles I seems to have left his mark, I suppose.
As we drank our dark brew, we talked. Throughout the entire conversation we seemed to agree on the problems with our current government: the fact that our replacement for a king is just another, the fact that the legislature was chasing its own tail, and most importantly, the restrictive nature of living in a Puritan state, at least compared to how life was before. It was enough to drive any man insane, and as George told me, it was close to happening to him. Though to be fair, the existence of these coffee houses did mean that men could talk in a much more intelligent fashion – the pubs of yesteryear were filled with drunkards with sharp tongues. At least, then, life is not all bad.
However, there are some bright sides to this era. I haven’t seen too cold a day this past week, and no one close to me has died in some time (Though I may have just inadvertently triggered such a death in writing such a thing.) In bigger news, even though the national church is notably Puritan, there have been efforts by Cromwell himself to reconcile all the Protestant religions with the exception of Quakers. Cromwell even negotiated a treaty to end the long standing Anglo-Dutch conflict, which I’ve never found productive in its goals. Whether it will go through is questionable, to be honest, but it is enough hope to end a journal entry on.
Thursday, October 18th, 1654. Day 4.
I thought through today the purpose of writing down my experiences in a thin and arguably cheap book. There is not much of a purpose, is there? It’s not like I am writing for any real audience to look upon centuries from now.
In unrelated news, I recently heard that a pamphlet has been going around claiming that the Instrument of Government gives Oliver Cromwell more powers than a king. And to think when he disbanded the Rump Parliament, he called the men “whoremasters…drunkards [and] corrupt and unjust.” Let’s just say that I do not disagree. I have noticed, at least as I pass by the house of Parliament now, that the few who do attend seem to be much more critical of our government than ever before. Some of them, frankly, are just plain radical. Even so, it is refreshing to find a consensus of some sort in this old house again. Now if we could put that on paper.
Friday, October 19th, 1654. Day 5.
I took out some time for recreation today, mainly to play games of tennis and bowling with the servants and my wife. Though the Sabbatarianists may disagree on the morality of these sorts of things, I say that most of the things they say are hogwash anyhow. Consider the rise of so many radical religions: Anabaptists, Familists, Seekers, Ranters, Muggletonians, Saturday Sabbatarians, Socinians and, of course, Quakers. They all have differing ideologies and they all want dominance over each other. God forbid another Crusades occur because of this. I must end by saying, however, that this is just a side effect of having so many Bibles in so many hands.
It is simply ridiculous how one messiah can lead so many factions. Speaking of, my meeting with John is tomorrow. I do hope it goes well.
Saturday, October 20th, 1654. Day 6.
After a bit of waiting and pacing back and forth behind my front door, John arrived, and he seemed quite stiff even as he joked about the lack of highwaymen on the trail. He seemed to look every which way at the grandeur of the home he was stepping into. His horse was tied to a post not too far away. I did tell you he was a simple man, now didn’t I? He refused to be brought by carriage.
The meal went as planned, and John seemed well acquainted with proper dining etiquette for a man who, based on his clothing, which included the thinnest pair of breeches I have ever seen, does not have much. He was quiet, polite, and not too greedy with the roast veal or wild geese. Actually, he took more to the rarely-touched salad than anything else, though it may have been that way because I am not fond of having eggs and marigolds as a meal. It surprised me especially that he didn’t touch the salt on the corner of his plate much. When I asked him, he responded:
“I am a plain man, and while I am thankful for this salt, I must decline its use.” I can tell, I thought to myself. The expression on his face when he sat on his padded chair was priceless. Though to be fair, they are rare in poorer communities.
After the meal and over a game of Three Men’s Morris, I spoke to John in a low voice about his faith. I could see his eyes reflect wherever he looked, as most of the furniture in the house was made of oak. According to him, Quakers believe that anyone can find their inner light and speak to or about God. Quite a wild concept considering how common priests are in this age. He also described not celebrating any holiday at all, since in Quaker culture, all days are holy. It reminded me of how much I missed Christmas and New Year’s Eve, given that under the Protectorate, they were replaced with days of monthly recreation.
“Though, if I may be honest”, John began, ”there is not much of a point in celebrating New Year’s Day on the first of January when the year does not begin until the 25th of March.” It was inconvenient that a religious difference meant that all of England was 10 days behind the rest of Europe. But as my chef loves to tell me, c’est la vie. The night ended as it began, with Mr. Gubbins struggling to understand the size of the house he had been in, even as he rode away. I suppose inviting back a few more times will make that all go away.
Sunday, October 21th, 1654. Day 7.
The Sabbath has finally come, and really, it is the perfect way to end a week. The sermons are long, yes, and the churches much plainer than before, but it is nice to be able to relax and be deep in thought again, even if it is forced. Though I have come to think on my own about the meanings behind the scriptures, I stay in the Puritan church mainly to be on Cromwell’s good side if he ever decides to reshuffle Parliament for the upteempth time. Today we went over Philippians 4:19. The preacher, a mister Stephen Robertson, was generally tame as Puritan preachers go; commanding about his message, but in a loving sort of way. His voice does make it hard to focus, though, as it is very thin and almost inaudible for the hard of hearing.
I do not remember church very well besides these few observations, as the hours that go by seem to blend together after long enough. Now, I lie in my bed, leaving it unmade as the servants have not yet returned from the service. Though I am not sure if I should even be writing at all, it wouldn’t really be a journal if it only lasted for six days, now would it?
Thinking about what could happen for breaking the Sabbath, I leave this seventh entry with this: I hope that this sliver of my life has showcased a thoroughly honest view of the times I am currently living in as I write this. I take solace in the fact that future generations will look back upon this era in some form, and that maybe, just maybe, the pages of these journals will be touched again long after my passing. Maybe.
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