Nor will his participation in the King’s death involve him in condemnation with us.
Continuing Of Cromwell’s Rule In England and the Restoration
with a selection from On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History by Thomas Carlyle published in 1841. The selections are presented in a series of ten easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Of Cromwell’s Rule In England and the Restoration.
Place: Great Britain
Oliver’s life at St. Ives and Ely, as a sober industrious Farmer, is it not altogether as that of a true and devout man? He has renounced the world and its ways: its prizes are not the thing that can enrich him. He tills the earth; he reads his Bible; daily assembles his servants round him to worship God. He comforts persecuted ministers, is fond of preachers; nay, can himself preach, — exhorts his neighbors to be wise, to redeem the time. In all this what “hypocrisy,” “ambition,” “cant,” or other falsity? The man’s hopes, I do believe, were fixed on the other Higher World; his aim to get well thither by walking well through his humble course in this world. He courts no notice: what could notice here do for him? “Ever in his great Taskmaster’s eye.”
It is striking, too, how he comes — out into public view; he, since no other is willing to come: in resistance to a public grievance. I mean, in that matter of the Bedford Fens. No one else will go to law with Authority; therefore he will. That matter once settled, he returns back into obscurity, to his Bible and his Plough. “Gain influence?” His influence is the most legitimate; derived from personal knowledge of him, as a just, religious, reasonable, and determined man. In this way he has lived till past forty; old age is now in view of him, and the earnest portal of Death and Eternity; it was at this point that he suddenly became “ambitious”! I do not interpret his Parliamentary mission in that way!
His successes in Parliament, his successes through the war, are honest successes of a brave man; who has more resolution in the heart of him, more light in the head of him, than other men. His prayers to God; his spoken thanks to the God of Victory, who had preserved him safe, and carried him forward so far, through the furious clash of a world all set in conflict, through desperate — looking envelopments at Dunbar; through the death — hail of so many battles; mercy after mercy; to the “crowning mercy” of Worcester fight: all this is good and genuine for a deep — hearted Calvinistic Cromwell. Only to vain unbelieving Cavaliers, worshipping not God but their own “lovelocks,” frivolities, and formalities, living quite apart from contemplations of God, living without God in the world, need it seem hypocritical.
Nor will his participation in the King’s death involve him in condemnation with us. It is a stern business killing of a King! But if you once go to war with him, it lies there; this and all else lie there. Once at war, you have made wager of battle with him: it is he to die, or else you. Reconciliation is problematic; may be possible, or, far more likely, is impossible.
It is now pretty generally admitted that the Parliament, having vanquished Charles First, had no way of making any tenable arrangement with him. The large Presbyterian party, apprehensive now of the Independents, were most anxious to do so; anxious indeed as for their own existence; but it could not be. The unhappy Charles, in those final Hampton — Court negotiations, shows himself as a man fatally incapable of being dealt with. A man who, once for all, could not and would not understand: — whose thought did not in any measure represent to him the real fact of the matter; nay worse, whose word did not at all represent his thought. We may say this of him without cruelty, with deep pity rather: but it is true and undeniable. Forsaken there of all but the name of Kingship, he still, finding himself treated with outward respect as a King, fancied that he might play — off party against party, and smuggle himself into his old power by deceiving both. Alas, they both discovered that he was deceiving them. A man whose word will not inform you at all what he means or will do, is not a man you can bargain with. You must get out of that man’s way, or put him out of yours! The Presbyterians, in their despair, were still for believing Charles, though found false, unbelievable again and again. Not so Cromwell: “For all our fighting,” says he, “we are to have a little bit of paper?” No! —
In fact, everywhere we have to note the decisive practical eye of this man; how he drives toward the practical and practicable; has a genuine insight into what is fact. Such an intellect, I maintain, does not belong to a false man: the false man sees false shows, plausibilities, expediences: the true man is needed to discern even practical truth. Cromwell’s advice about the Parliament’s Army, early in the contest, How they were to dismiss their city — tapsters, flimsy riotous persons, and choose substantial yeomen, whose heart was in the work, to be soldiers for them: this is advice by a man who saw. Fact answers, if you see into Fact! Cromwell’s Ironsides were the embodiment of this insight of his; men fearing God; and without any other fear. No more conclusively genuine set of fighters ever trod the soil of England, or of any other land.
Neither will we blame greatly that word of Cromwell’s to them; which was so blamed: “If the King should meet me in battle, I would kill the King.” Why not? These words were spoken to men who stood as before a Higher than Kings. They had set more than their own lives on the cast. The Parliament may call it, in official language, a fighting “for the King;” but we, for our share, cannot understand that. To us it is no dilettante work, no sleek officiality; it is sheer rough death and earnest. They have brought it to the calling forth of War; horrid internecine fight, man grappling with man in fire — eyed rage — the infernal element in man called forth, to try it by that!
Do that therefore; since that is the thing to be done. — The successes of Cromwell seem to me a very natural thing! Since he was not shot in battle, they were an inevitable thing. That such a man, with the eye to see, with the heart to dare, should advance, from post to post, from victory to victory, till the Huntingdon farmer became, by whatever name you might call him, the acknowledged Strongest Man in England, virtually the King of England, requires no magic to explain it!
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