« VorigeDoorgaan »
not written by a warm partisan, and is not full of as sheer special pleading as the efforts of lawyers in the courts of justice.
It is curious, when opportunity offers, to trace up a generally admitted fact, through its successive reiterations, as it has descended from generation to generation, to its original statement, and observe upon what authority the whole fabric rests. Frequently we may find the world upon the elephant, the elephant on the tortoise, and the tortoise on nothing. Will it be believed that our particular knowledge of Oliver Cromwell, the most extraordinary man, of the most extraordinary age, of the most extraordinary people under heaven, rests upon no better authority than that of a miserable, obscure pamphleteer, a mere court scribbler to Charles II., whose dingy libel was going through the press at the very time that the disinterred corpse of Cromwell was swinging in chains, and all Britain cringing under the scorpion lash of that wretched man whom God seemed to have sent back as the very worst plague for the obstinate king-worship of the people? Yet such is the truth. Mr. Carlyle went seriously to work to follow up the chain of narration from the present school-book histories to its beginning in contemporary writings; and after a search as laborious as the exploration of the Niger, he has discovered the first spring of all the foul and bitter stream in the
Flagellium ; or, the Life and Death of Oliver Cromwell, the late Usurper : by James Heath.' Which was got ready as soon as possible on the back of the 'Annus Mirabilis, or Glorious Restoration ;' and is written in such a spirit as we may fancy. When restored potentates and high dignitaries had dug up above a hundred buried corpses, and flung them in a heap in St. Mary's church-yard, the corpse of Admiral Blake among them, and Oliver's old mother's corpse ; when the dead clay of Oliver, and Ireton, and Bradshaw, were hanging on Tyburn gallows ; when high dignitaries and potentates were in such humor, what could be expected of poor pamphleteers and gazeteers ?”
True enough! And we should blush, every one of us who is capable of honest shame should blush, that we never thought all this before, but permitted the memory of Cromwell-dear to liberty, dear to God's truth, as that memory is—to be lied out of all reality by such a creature as this “son of the king's cutler” writing the history of a man whose fleshless bones were rattling on a gallows. Alas! to what painful truths does honest inquiry lead reluctant thought.
The biography now presented to us in the form of these Letters and Speeches is liable to none of the objections so forcibly urged against the authority of ordinary history. They present the facts, the raw material of knowledge, in unadulterated purity. Mr. Carlyle has merely translated them from the antiquated, unintelligible language in which they were written, and elucidated them by such remarks as were, or seemed to him to be, necessary. They are now before us, in good modern print and white paperthe private, confidential, and business letters of Oliver Cromwell, written during a long series of years, full of his own reflections, and containing his own statements of the several great occurrences of his life. We have here a transcript of the mind and soul of Oliver, in every state of outward circumstances and inward emotion; and these must afford a correct account of the man and his times. His speeches, too, are full expositions of his own conduct, made before the men who knew him best; made, too, with a plainness and perspicuity which disprove all suspicion of sincerity. Hypocrisy so consummate as never for a moment to forget, during a long and extraordinarily busy life; dissimulation, perfect under all circumstances of triumph or adversity, preserved toward family and children, as well as friends and officers; deception begun in youth, maintained unfailingly through life, and sustained completely even in the hour and article of death,—would be a miracle of art wholly inconsistent with human imperfection.
We have, therefore, an opportunity rarely offered in the prosecution of historical inquiry; an opportunity to judge the character of a great man and his times by evidence abundant and indubitable, not garbled by narrators, not liable to any suspicion of unfairness. We can try Oliver Cromwell far more justly than men of his own time could try him; we can judge the times in which he lived, and the characters prominent in those times, even better than he could judge them.
One of the most remarkable impressions made upon the mind of Mr. Carlyle himself upon the reading of all the old letters, speeches, and documents of all kinds belonging to Puritan history, is that the men of that day were true men; that we may read their utterances without painful effort to guess at hidden meanings concealed by artful words. The age was honest, in its goodness and its wickedness : whatever else it was, it was not deceitful. Our author says,-
“In the history of the civil war, far and wide, I have not fallen in with any such thing as deliberate falsehood. I will counsel the reader to leave all that of cant, dupery, Machiavelism, &c., decisively lying at the threshold. He will be wise to believe that these Puritans mean what they say; and to try unimpeded if he can discover what that is. Gradually a very stupendous phenomenon may rise on his astonished eye, a practical world based on belief in God.”
Oliver Cromwell was born at Huntingdon, April 25, 1599. His father was Robert Cromwell, younger son of Sir Henry Cromwell, and younger brother of Sir Oliver Cromwell, “who dwelt successively, in rather sumptuous fashion, at the mansion of Hichinbrook, hard by.” We will spare our readers his mother's pedigree, and all further notice of his ancestry. It matters little whether his family were obscure or noble, as certainly they owe all memory of them to him. It is well to observe, however, that he was not a brewer, or in any way associated with persons of coarse manners and vulgar minds. His family were highly respectable, and seem from what account we have of them to have been worthy of all respect. Oliver himself was carefully and religiously educated: first at the public school at Huntingdon, and subsequently at Cambridge. The death of his father recalled him from the university, when only eighteen, and he continued to live with his widowed mother until, and for many years subsequent to his marriage.
There is not the smallest evidence that he was at any time a wild liver: on the contrary, all authentic information with regard to his early years confirms us in the supposition that he was grave, perhaps stern, even in his youth. His manners were formed in the society of sober and godly people, who were already forming that distinctive character and those close associations which in after times produced such extraordinary results. Oliver married before he was twenty-two years of age. His wife was Elizabeth Bouchier, daughter of Sir James Bouchier, knight, an opulent country gentleman. This connection shows that Cromwell was ranked among the gentry of the country, and disproves all stories of his original vulgarity. He was, in truth, a well-educated young man, of strong mind, severe morals, and good estate, who for ten years after marriage continued to farm his lands in quietness, and take care of his family with commendable prudence. One of Mr. Carlyle's characteristic paragraphs will be interesting to many of our readers :
“In those years it must be that Dr. Simcott, physician in Hunting. don, had to do with Oliver's hypochondriac maladies. He told Sir Philip Warwick, unluckily specifying no date, or none that has survived, "he had often been sent for at midnight.' Mr. Cromwell for many years was very •splenetic,' often thought he was just about to die, and also ‘had fancies about the Town Cross.' Brief intimation, of which the reflective reader may make a great deal. Samuel Johnson, too, had hypochondrias. All great souls are apt to have; and to be in thick darkness generally until the eternal ways and the celestial guiding stars disclose themselves, and the vague abyss of life knit itself up into firmaments for them. Temptations in the wilderness, choices of Hercules, and the like, in succinct or loose form, are appointed for every man that will assert a soul in himself and be a man. Let Oliver take comfort in his dark sorrows and melancholies. The quantity of sorrow that he has, does it not mean withal the quantity of sympathy he has, the quantity of faculty and victory he yet shall have ? Our sorrow is the inverted image of our nobleness. The depth of our despair measures what capability and height of claim we have to hope. Black smoke as of Tophet filling all your universe, it can yet by true heart-energy become flame and brilliancy of heaven. Courage !
“ It is therefore in these years undated by history that we must place Oliver's clear recognition of Calvinistic Christianity : what he, with unspeakable joy, would name his conversion, his deliverance from the jaws of eternal death. Certainly a grand epoch for a man: properly the one epoch, the turning point which guides upward or guides downward, him and his activity for evermore. Wilt thou join with the dragons; wilt thou join with the gods ? Of thee too the question is asked. Whether by a man in Geneva gown, by a man in four surplices at Allhallow-tide,' with words very imperfect; or by no man and no words, but only by the silences, by the eternities, by the life everlasting and the death everlasting. That the 'sense of difference between right and wrong' had filled all time and all space for man, and boded itself forth into a heaven and hell for him: this constitutes the grand feature of those Puritan, old Christian ages ; this is the element which marks them as heroic, and has rendered their works great, manlike, fruitsul to all generations. It is by far the memorablest achievement of our species; without that element, in some shape or other, nothing of heroic had ever been among us.
"For many centuries, Catholic Christianity, a fit imbodiment of that divine sense, had been current more or less, making the generations noble; and here in England, in the century called the seventeenth, we see the last aspect of it hitherto: not the last of all, it is to be hoped. Oliver was henceforth a Christian man; believed in God, not on Sundays only, but on all days, in all places, and in all cases.”
The earliest of these letters is dated St. Ives, Jan. 11, 1635. It seems that the writer, together with other leading Puritans, was at that time carnestly engaged in what we would now call a home missionary enterprise, an effort to supply the people with evangelical preaching. The mode of operation was to buy up “advowsons" or "impropriations" as they came into market, and invest them in trustees or “feoffees” for the support of lecturers. These laiter were not commonly in "priest's orders,” but had licenses to preach or lecture: which they did with such good effect that Laud set himself to suppress the whole system ; which he did effectually, by his accustomed means, starchamber-law, fines, damages, &c. That so great an outrage upon the rights of property and conscience created great dissatisfaction we may readily believe. It was indeed one of the first movements toward the civil war; for
Cromwell, Hampden, Pym, and “in conscious act, or in clear tendency, the far greater part of the serious thought and manhood of England, had declared itself Puritan.” This first letter of Cromwell has reference to these matters. Unless the writer was born a hypocrite-a supposition involving an absurdity almost too great even for the understanding of modern mitre-worshipersthis letter, written before he could have dreamed of greatness, or felt the first movements of ambition, must give us a true picture of Cromwell, when thirty-six years old, married, the head of a family, a substantial farmer at St. Ives.
“To my very loving friend Mr. Storie, at the Sign of the Dog, in the Royal Exchange, London, deliver these.
“St. Ives, 14th January, 1635. “MR. STORIE,-Among 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, since his coming, the Lord hath by him wrought much good among us.
“It only now remains that He who first moved you to this, put you forward in the continuance thereof: it was the Lord; and therefore to him list we up our hearts that he would perfect it. And surely, Mr. Storie, 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 when 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 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,
Upon this letter Mr. Carlyle remarks :
“ 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