Parliaments having failed, there remained nothing but the way of Despotism.
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
What will he do with it? The Lord — General Cromwell, “Commander — in — chief of all the Forces raised and to be raised”; he hereby sees himself, at this unexampled juncture, as it were the one available Authority left in England, nothing between England and utter Anarchy but him alone. Such is the undeniable Fact of his position and England’s, there and then. What will he do with it? After deliberation, he decides that he will accept it; will formally, with public solemnity, say and vow before God and men, “Yes, the Fact is so, and I will do the best I can with it!” Protectorship, Instrument of Government; — these are the external forms of the thing; worked out and sanctioned as they could in the circumstances be, by the Judges, by the leading Official people, “Council of Officers and persons of interest in the Nation”: and as for the thing itself, undeniably enough, at the pass matters had now come to, there was no alternative but Anarchy or that. Puritan England might accept it or not; but Puritan England was, in real truth, saved from suicide thereby! — I believe the Puritan People did, in an inarticulate, grumbling, yet on the whole grateful and real way, accept this anomalous act of Oliver’s; at least, he and they together made it good, and always better to the last. But in their Parliamentary articulate way, they had their difficulties, and never knew fully what to say to it! —
Oliver’s second Parliament, properly his first regular Parliament, chosen by the rule laid-down in the Instrument of Government, did assemble, and worked; — but got, before long, into bottomless questions as to the Protector’s right, as to “usurpation,” and so forth; and had at the earliest legal day to be dismissed. Cromwell’s concluding Speech to these men is a remarkable one. So likewise to his third Parliament, in similar rebuke for their pedantries and obstinacies. Most rude, chaotic, all these Speeches are; but most earnest — looking. You would say, it was a sincere, helpless man; not used to speak the great inorganic thought of him, but to act it rather! A helplessness of utterance, in such bursting fulness of meaning. He talks much about “births of Providence”: All these changes, so many victories and events, were not forethoughts, and theatrical contrivances of men, of me or of men; it is blind blasphemers that will persist in calling them so! He insists with a heavy sulphurous, wrathful emphasis on this. As he well might. As if a Cromwell in that dark, huge game he had been playing, the world wholly thrown into chaos round him, had foreseen it all, and played it all off like a precontrived puppet — show by wood and wire! These things were foreseen by no man, he says; no man could tell what a day would bring forth: they were “births of Providence.” God’s finger guided us on, and we came at last to clear height of victory, God’s Cause triumphant in these Nations; and you as a Parliament could assemble together, and say in what manner all this could be organized, reduced into rational feasibility among the affairs of men. You were to help with your wise counsel in doing that. “You have had such an opportunity as no Parliament in England ever had.”
“Christ’s Law, the Right and True, was to be in some measure made the Law of this land. In place of that, you have got into your idle pedantries, constitutionalities, bottomless cavillings and questionings about written laws for my coming here; — and would send the whole matter in Chaos again, because I have no Notary’s parchment, but only God’s voice from the battle — whirlwind, for being President among you! That opportunity is gone; and we know not when it will return. You have had your constitutional Logic; and Mammon’s Law, not Christ’s Law, rules yet in this land. “God be judge between you and me!” These are his final words to them: Take you your constitution — formulas in your hand; and I my informal struggles, purposes, realities, and acts; and “God be judge between you and me!””
We said above what shapeless, involved chaotic things the printed Speeches of Cromwell are. Wilfully ambiguous, unintelligible, say the most: a hypocrite shrouding himself in confused Jesuitic jargon! To me they do not seem so. I will say, rather, they afforded the first glimpses I could ever get into the reality of this Cromwell, nay into the possibility of him. Try to believe that he means something, search lovingly what that may be: you will find a real speech lying imprisoned in these broken, rude tortuous utterances; a meaning in the great heart of this inarticulate man! You will, for the first time, begin to see that he was a man; not an enigmatic chimera, unintelligible to you, incredible to you. The Histories and Biographies written of this Cromwell, written in shallow, sceptical generations that could not know or conceive of a deep, believing man, are far more obscure than Cromwell’s Speeches. You look through them only into the infinite vague of Black and the Inane. “Heats and jealousies,” says Lord Clarendon himself: “heats and jealousies,” mere crabbed whims, theories, and crotchets; these induced slow, sober, quiet Englishmen to lay down their ploughs and work; and fly into red fury of confused war against the best — conditioned of Kings! Try if you can find that true. Scepticism writing about Belief may have great gifts; but it is really ultra vires there. It is Blindness laying — down the Laws of Optics. —
Cromwell’s third Parliament split on the same rock as his second. Ever the constitutional Formula: How came you there? Show us some Notary parchment! Blind pedants: — “Why, surely the same power which makes you a Parliament, that, and something more, made me a Protector!” If my Protectorship is nothing, what in the name of wonder is your Parliamenteership, a reflex and creation of that? —
Parliaments having failed, there remained nothing but the way of Despotism. Military Dictators, each with his district to coerce the Royalist and other gainsayers, to govern them, if not by act of Parliament, then by the sword. Formula shall not carry it, while the Realty is here! I will go on protecting oppressed Protestants abroad, appointing just judges, wise managers, at home, cherishing true Gospel ministers; doing the best I can to make England a Christian England, greater than old Rome, the Queen of Protestant Christianity; I, since you will not help me; I while God leaves me life! — Why did he not give it up; retire into obscurity again, since the Law would not acknowledge him? cry several. That is where they mistake. For him there was no giving of it up! Prime Ministers have governed countries, Pitt, Bombal, Choiseul; and their word was a law while it held: but this Prime Minister was one that could not get resigned. Let him once resign, Charles Stuart and the Cavaliers waited to kill him; to kill the Cause and him. Once embarked, there is no retreat, no return. This Prime Minister could retire no — whither except into his tomb.
One is sorry for Cromwell in his old days. His complaint is incessant of the heavy burden Providence has laid on him. Heavy; which he must bear till death. Old Colonel Hutchinson, as his wife relates it, Hutchinson, his old battle — mate, coming to see him on some indispensable business, much against his will — Cromwell “follows him to the door,” in a most fraternal, domestic, conciliatory style; begs that he would be reconciled to him, his old brother — in — arms; says how much it grieves him to be misunderstood, deserted by true fellow — soldiers, dear to him from of old: the rigorous Hutchinson, cased in his Republican formula, sullenly goes his way. — And the man’s head now white; his strong arm growing weary with its long work! I think always, too, of his poor Mother, now very old, living in that Palace of his; a right brave woman; as indeed they lived all an honest God — fearing Household there: if she heard a shot go — off, she thought it was her son killed. He had come to her at least once a day, that she might see with her own eyes that he was yet living. The poor old mother! — What had this man gained; what had he gained? He had a life of sore strife and toil to his last day. Fame, ambition, place in History? His dead body was hung in chains; his “place in History” — place in History, forsooth! — has been a place of ignominy, accusation, blackness, and disgrace; and here, this day, who knows if it is not rash in me to be among the first that ever ventured to pronounce him not a knave and liar, but a genuinely honest man! Peace to him. Did he not, in spite of all, accomplish much for us? We walk smoothly over his great rough heroic life; step — over his body sunk in the ditch there. We need not spurn it, as we step on it! — Let the Hero rest. It was not to men’s judgment that he appealed: nor have men judged him very well.
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