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XL. HOURS OF PARLIAMENT IN 1640,
DURING THE LONG PARLIAMENT.
At the first meeting, in 1640, of the so-called Long Parliament, the House of Commons, according to an ancient and approved usage, began business at eight o'clock in the morning, and ended at two in the afternoon.
As they assumed to themselves the power, which had long slept, of reforming state abuses, and as business grew upon them, they continued their debates through the afternoon; sometimes sitting, to the great annoyance to many members who wanted their dinners, as late as four o'clock, and sometimes even till dark. But even this innovation, which Clarendon loudly complains of, did not allow them sufficient time for the despatch of their constantly increasing business, and they gradually began to draw upon the hours of the night. By these measures the party most in earnest, whose zeal rendered them indefatigable, gained great advantages; for the court members, and the lukewarm party, which is always so considerable in point of number, could ill tolerate such a sacrifice of routine and comfort, and accustomed themselves to withdraw to their dinners and their evening enjoyments. The first attempt made to introduce candles occasioned a somewhat disgraceful disturbance. This was on the 8th of June 1641. "In the afternoon," says Rushworth, "the House being resolved into a committee concerning the late plot for bringing up the Northern army, and sitting somewhat late, there happened some words to be spoken, as if Colonel Goring was a perjured man for discovering the plot to the House, having taken an oath of secrecy. In debate whereof, being veryearnest, candles were called for, but the major part opposed it; yet candles being brought by a mistake, and commanded out again, Sir William Widdrington and Mr. Herbert Price irregularly took the candles, and brought them in, contrary to the general sense of the House; whereupon there was a great stir in the House about it, and the committee rose." In consequence of this irregularity and disorder, Sir William and Mr. Price were on the next day committed to the Tower.
One of the first occasions on which the sittings in the House of Commons were carried to extraordinary lengths, was the stormy debate on the bill brought in by Sir Edward Deering, " for the extirpating of Episcopacy."
As this debate was renewed during many days, the House, at a certain hour became very thin; "they only, who followed up the bill with impatience remaining, and the others, who abhorred it, growing weary of so tiresome an attendance, left the house at dinner-time, and afterwards followed their pleasures; so that the Lord Falkland was wont to say, 'that they who hated bishops hated them worse than the devil, and that they who loved them did not love them so well as their dinner.' "—Clar. vol. i. p. 276.
By this time it had become a common practice for the whole House to meet in committee at nine in the morning, and so sit till four in the afternoon, when the Speaker "resumed the chair." Clarendon, who then, as Mr. Edward Hyde, was chairman of the grand committee of the House for the extirpation of bishops, complains of the committee "for keeping such disorderly hours, seldom rising till after four of the clock in the afternoon."— Life, vol. i. p. 90.
In the same part of his Memoirs, however, Clarendon lets us into a curious secret, which goes to show that the leading men of the reforming party were better managers than their opponents, and kept a house of refection close to the scene of their labours, to which they could retire without inconvenience, and thence, after refreshing the inward man, could return to debate and action. Mr. Pym had hired comfortable lodgings in the house of Sir Richard Manly, which stood in a little court just behind Westminster Hall; and there he, Mr. Hampden, Sir Arthur Haslerig, and two or three others, kept a table upon a common stock, or subscription, transacting a great deal of business thereat, and inviting thither all such members of the House of Commons as they had any hopes of converting to their state doctrines. Clarendon, on his own confession, was invited, and frequently dined there; for he had begun his Parliamentary career as a staunch reformer, and for some time evidently vacillated between the two parties. It was perfectly natural that the Pyms, the Haslerigs, the Fiennes, and the Harry Martins, should try to secure him, and his commanding talents made the attempt worth their while.
It would be curious to speculate on the amount of benefit the patriots derived from this snug establishment, on the vigour that was put into them in Pym's lodgings, and on the number of converts that were made over this well provided table. It is also curious to consider the establishment as the origin and first model of those political club-houses which have since become so important and thoroughly organized in England. We cannot discover anything of the sort before Pym's time.
On the 9th of November 1640, Lord Digby proposed in the Commons, that a remonstrance, "to be a faithful and lively representation to his Majesty of the deplorable estate of this kingdom," should be drawn up and presented. To this effect, a committee of twenty-four members was appointed forthwith, to draw up such a declaration, and to receive an account of grievances from other committees; but this business ran to great lengths, and the remonstrance itself was not carried till the 22nd of November 1641. By this time the Commons had become accustomed to late hours, and were no longer moved from their propriety by the apparition of a few candlesticks. The debate lasted from about four in the afternoon to three the next morning; which was so unusually long (even then,) that according to Rushworth, some of the royalist party compared the passing of the remonstrance, which gave a death-blow to their cause, to the tardy verdict of a starved jury. This magnificently conceived, and admirably expressed remonstrance, consisting of 206 articles of reproach or advice, was voted entire, but only by a small majority. Mr. Palmer and some other members entered a protest against it; in consequence whereof, Palmer was the next day committed to the Tower ; it being held by the reformers, that, in protesting, he had directly offended against "the order, custom, and privilege of the House of Commons." Clarendon, who admits that it "had not been used in the House of Commons " to protest against the sense or vote of the House, gives a more detailed account of this memorable debate; in which he somewhat differs from Rushworth, making the sitting still longer, and the debate more formidable.—He says, "The debate being entered upon about nine of the clock, it continued all that day; and candles being called for when it grew dark (neither side being very desirous to adjourn it till the next day, though it was evident very many of them withdrew themselves out of pure faintness and disability to attend the conclusion), the debate continued till it was after twelve of the clock, with much passion; and the House being then divided, upon the passing or not passing the remonstrance, it was carried in the affirmative by nine voices, and no more." He then goes on to state, that, as soon as it was carriod, Mr. Hampden moved that an order should be entered for the immediate printing of the remonstrance; that this motion produced a more gtormy debate than the former; and that " the House by degrees being quieted, they all agreed, about two of the clock in the morning, to adjourn till two of the clock the next afternoon," when the order for printing was carried "without much opposition."
According to this relation, the whole debate on the 22nd of November lasted seventeen hours, a term much too long for many of the Court-party. Clarendon, forgetting that therein he praises the patience and constancy of his opponents, expressly says that they carried their motion by the hour of the night, which drove away more members than were necessary to form a majority against them.
The first session of this Long Parliament lasted nearly a full year, and then they adjourned only for a month and a few days: a short recess, but still "agreat refreshment to those who had sat so long, mornings and afternoons, with little or no intermission, and in that warm region where thunder and lightning were made."—Clarendon's History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars.—His Life, written by himself.—Rushworth's Historical Collection*.
During the civil war there were some very long debates in the House; but the longest of all the sittings was in 1648, after the triumph of the Parliament over Charles, and when the tragedy of that unhappy man's life was in its last act, and drawing near its final scene. The wellknown split in the party who had made the revolution had taken place, and the Presbyterians and the Independents stood in open opposition to one another. The Presbyterians, notwithstanding his notoriously bad faith, would still negotiate with the King, and rely on a treaty; and to this end they succeeded by a majority of the House in sending commissioners to the Isle of Wight, where Charles was then kept prisoner. The Independents, on the other hand, insisted that the time for treating, and bandying useless scrolls of parchment, was past; and that instead of continuing to consider Charles Stuart as a sovereign prince, they ought to hold him as a traitor, and bring him to trial for his crimes. The Presbyterians were the stronger party in the House, but the Independents had the whole army with them; and Cromwell, who had signally defeated the Scottish forces that the Presbyterians had called to their aid, was now approaching London by forced marches.
The policy of the Independents in the House of Commons was therefore to gain time, and this they managed to do by their indefatigal>ility in debate.
On the 1st of December 1648, the commissioners that had been despatched to the Isle of Wight, appeared in the House, and read tneir report, stating therein the several concessions Charles was disposed to make. Through the adroit manoeuvres cf the weaker party, this long document was read twice over. This occupied a good deal of time, and then the Independents got up a running debate on the mere wording of the report. About two o'clock in the afternoon, the House put the question, "Whether they should now debate the treaty, and whether