페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

HIS WORSHIP OF CROMWELL.

07

ing a military despotism on the ruins of that liberty for which he and his fellows had fought. It is more than doubtful whether a majority of competent judges would decide, at this hour, that Mr. Carlyle's own vindication on this point is complete. Such judges would not accept Mr. Carlyle's doctrine of the partial irresponsibility of the hero, and the Divine right of men of transcendent genius to dismiss parliaments and supersede laws. But the terms in which Macaulay, writing in the Edinburgh Review, and, therefore, expressing an opinion in which he reckoned on the concurrence of Liberal Europe, had previously characterized Cromwell, prove that the theory of his being a Tartufe, who turned the struggle for constitutional liberty into a farce, had been thoroughly discarded. Comparing him with Cajsar and Napoleon, Macaulay placed Cromwell above the latter, He expressly denied that the Protector's ambition was of "an impure or selfish kind," which it must have been if it was like the ambition of Tartufe. "No sovereign," wrote Macaulay in the Edinburgh Revieie, so early as 1828, " ever carried to the throne so large a portion of the best qualities of the middling orders, so strong a sympathy with the feelings and interests of his people, He was sometimes driven to arbitrary measures; but he had a high, stout, honest, English heart. Hence it was that he loved to surround his throne with such men as Hale and Blake. Hence it was that he allowed so large a share of political liberty to his subjects, and that, even when an opposition dangerous to his power and to his person almost compelled him to govern by the sword, he was still anxious to leave a germ from which, at a more favorable season, free institutions might spring. We firmly believe that, if his first Parliament had not commenced its debates by disputing his title, his government would have been as mild at home as it was energetic and able abroad." This is the language of cordial and proud appreciation; and it was surely too much, after this had appeared in the most influential of European periodicals, from the pen of one of the most brilliant of European writers, to say that "selfish ambition, dishonesty, duplicity" were the characteristies universally attributed to the great Protector.

CHAPTEIi VII.

HIS CROMWELL. HUME's UNFORTUNATE PROPllECY.

'HE exceptions taken in the preceding chapter to Carlyle's

-*. Life and Letters of Oliver Cromwell are nowise incompatible with an almost reverential admiration for the book. Whatever had been done for Cromwell before its appearance, much remained to be done. Carlyle afforded him what, most certainly, no previous writer had been able to afford him—the sympathetic interpretation of a kindred spirit. "There may still be discussion," I have recently had occasion to write, "long and searching, about Cromwell; but until Mr. Carlyle wrote, his life was unintelligible. Carlyle raised him from the dead."

It was not, however, by sympathy of kindred genius alone that Carlyle could enable his contemporaries to understand Cromwell. LTard work was to be done, work of a peculiarly tedious and wearing kind, work requiring immense patience and the most sustained attention, work to which men of high literary genius are seldom willing to stoop. The history of literature affords no richer treat than may be derived from a comparison of Cromwell as painted by Hume, with Cromwell as painted by Carlyle. Cautious David Hume was so sure of his judgment, and that of his knowing contemporaries in the sceptical eighteenth century, respecting the great Puritan, that he ventured to utter a kind of prophecy upon the subject.

"The great defect in Oliver's speeches," says Hume, in a note to the sixty-first chapter of his nistory of England, "consists not in his want of elocution, but in his want of ideas. The sagacity of his actions, and the absurdity of his discourse, form the most prodigious contrast that ever was known. The collection of all his speeches, letters, sermons (for he also wrote sermons), would make a great curiosity, and, with a few exceptions, might justly pass for one of the most nonsensical books in the world." Cromwell preached sermons, but Hume was letting fly an arrow into the air when he spoke of Cromwell writing sermons, nor did the rough troopers to whom he preached take reports of his sermons. But the letters and speeches of Cromwell, Hume's prophecy respecting which I put into italies, have been collected by Carlyle; and the collection forms, by universal consent, one of the noblest books within the whole range of literature. Hume quotes a passage from one of Cromwell's speeches, and, as Hume gives it, no mortal can make sense of it. The subject to which it relates is the offer of the title of king to Cromwell. Turning from the coil and welter of unintelligible words, presented to us as Cromwell's by Hume, we take up Carlyle and read the passage. The artist-biographer, basing his art, as all true art is based, on honest labor, realizes for us, to begin with, the exact position in which Oliver stood at the time. The Parliament was offering him the Crown; the Ironsides could not be got to tolerate his assumption of kingship; and Cromwell had to solve the very ticklish problem of letting the Parliament know, without inflicting any insult, that the will of the Ironsides, not the will of the Parliament, must, in this instance, be done. Having thus, by accurate knowledge, made the past present, Carlyle takes up the unpunctuated jumble of words that had contented Hume; fits clause to clause; and traces the frontier line between the sentences. The change is magical or more. Fiat lux, says Carlyle, and the chaos beams into order.

[graphic]

What Carlyle did for that passage he did, more or less, for all the extant letters and speeches of Cromwell. The toil of brain, and even of body, involved in the enterprise was enor

[merged small][ocr errors]

moos, but the reward was great—a consciousness, namely, of having made the voice of one of the most remarkable men that ever lived, after it had been all but dumb for two hundred years, once more, and now for evermore, audible to mankind. Any reward in the way of fame and reputation, compared with this consciousness, was as the fine dust of the balance; but if anything could add piquancy to such a triumph, if any splendor of blazoning could enhance such a victory, it would be the prediction by Hume that Cromwell's letters and speeches would form one of the most nonsensical books in the world.

There were some indications in the History of the French Revolution that Carlyle had a special gift for military description, but it was in this book on Cromwell that he fairly proved himself the rival of Homer in delineating battles. I shall quote part of his picture of the Battle of Dunbar. The moment at which the extract commences is when, on the night of the 2d of September, 1650, David Lesley, commander of the Scots, is bringing his men down from their unassailable position on the heights above Dunbar, to the level ground on which they will be exposed to the attack of Cromwell.

The Battle Of Dunbar.

At sight of tbis movement, Oliver suggests to Lambert standing by him, Docs it not give ta an advantage, if we, instead of him, like to begin the attack? Here is the enemy's right wing coming out to the open space, free to be attacked on any side; and the main-battle hampered in narrow eloping ground between Doon Hill and the brook, has no room to maneeuvre or assist: beat this right wing where it now stands; take it in fIank and front with an overpowering force—it is driven upon its own mainbattle, the whole army is beaten? Lambert eagerly assents, " had meant to say the same thing." Monk, who comes up at the moment, likewise assents; as the other officers do, when the case is set before them. It is the plan resolved upon for battle. The attack shall begin to-morrow before-dawn. And so the soldiers stand to their arms, or lie within instant reach of their arms, all night; being upon an engagement very difficult indeed. The night is wild and wet;—2d of September means 12th by our

« 이전계속 »