Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

among the class of thoughtful nonconformists, whose bias was already strongly in favour of the Puritan King. It helped, however, to lessen the influence of that able analysis of Cromwell's character, that the author permitted his anxiety to preserve the strict limits of candour and truth, to betray him into some timidity and inconsistency in forming his estimate of Cromwell. He acknowledges his religion to have been genuine, his emotions healthy and pure, and his ideas of toleration beyond those of the most enlightened Puritans of his age. Yet he admits the charge of dissimulation to be just. “ Cromwell,” says he, “dissembled in the fashion to be expected from him, viewed in the circumstances of his origin and history. The great difference between him, in this respect, and the martyr-king against whom he drew his sword, was, not that he felt less scruple than his illustrious opponent in yielding to this truly odious tendency, but that it sometimes betrayed itself, in his case, in a manner which is as much at variance with our taste as with our ideas of rectitude ; and, unhappily, the majority of polite people inform us, in a thousand ways, that they are less disturbed by an offence against morals, than by an offence against refinement—so much so as to make it almost appear, that, in their esteem, a man is scarcely to be deemed a sinner at all, so long as he is careful to sin with the air of a courtier!”

The same year in which Dr. Vaughan's “Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell ” appeared, Forster published, as one of his admirable series of “Lives of Eminent British Statesmen,” a life of Cromwell. It is characterised by his wonted laborious research, and his no less attractive style of biographical narrative. But he was already pledged to “the statesmen of the Commonwealth,” and seems to have found it impossible to reconcile his admiration of the great men of the Long Parliament, with any commendation of the policy of the Protectorate. As by far the most candid and impartial of Cromwell's biographers, who have adhered to what may be styled the hypocritical theory of Cromwell's character, I have quoted largely from him, in maintaining an opposite view. As a writer who is as far as possible removed from the prejudices of Cromwell's royalist defamers, Forster's opinions well merit our careful study, and have carried the more weight with them that they are not put forward as mere opinions, but in the form of conclusions deduced from the evidence he produces. The reader having now the opportunity of comparing them with others, must judge for himself.

By far the most valuable contribution, however, to the biography of Cromwell, and the history of his government, is beyond all question, his "Letters and Speeches, with Elucidations; by Thomas Carlyle.” It forms a new era in the history of the man and his times. Men, in general, cannot go in search of the evidence: even more diligent students, earnestly desirous of forming a just estimate of Cromwell, have not always the unwieldy treasures of the British Museum at their disposal, nor the time to avail themselves of them, if they had. They are compelled to turn to Clarendon, or Hallam, or Vaughan, or Forster ; and accept of arguments and opinions often in lieu of evidence. Carlyle, however, places us on altogether higher ground. His evidence is now before us, arranged and sifted, in chronological order, and with clear references to the circumstances under which each fact transpired. If the reader like not his "elucidations,” he is welcome to elucidate them better for himself, if he can. Already this work produces fruits. A foreign divine, in high esteem for piety and literary attainments, stimulated to the task by a grateful sense of benefits conferred on his Huguenot fathers by the Protector of the English Commonwealth, has stepped into the arena, and become the vindicator of Cromwell ; with what success it would be out of place here to judge. Others, no doubt, will appeal to the jury of the English nation, now that the evidence is before them; and it is only as such an unpretending popular appeal, that this little sketch is offered. As one volume of a series, I have been bound down as to space, and limited in its production as to time. The reader is not therefore to expect from it what it makes no pretensions to. Where it has seemed necessary, points have been occasionally illustrated by reference to early authorities, and to sources beyond the reach of the general reader; but original research into the vast fields of contemporary controversy and pamphleteering has not been attempted, nor is it now greatly needed, in order to form a just estimate of Cromwell. It is not from want of evidence that he has been misjudged hitherto, but rather, because the evidence has been from the first so overlaid with extraneous prejudices and opinions, that it has required far more labour and ingenuity than ordinary readers are in the habit of exercising, to separate the one from the other. Above all, rejection of false evidence has been far more needed than the accumulation of any additional and trustworthy materials. In coming to a new trial of the question, it has been necessary, not only to receive all prejudice

evidence with caution, but, as a preliminary step, to disiniss al. together certain witnesses from the court, as convicted perjurers, whose evidence has heretofore been considered the most valuable and trustworthy. Even by such convictions, a great point is gained. When all false evidence has been got rid of, the admirers of Cromwell will have little to fear. The more he is known, the greater will be the admiration with which his character will be viewed by all thinking men. To be the leader of a great popular movement, he had probably as little of the vulgar attributes of a popular hero as any man that ever lived. Names, and forms, and shadows of things were altogether intolerable to him. He drove right on to the heart of the matter. Good government was with him the supremacy of order, not the mere realization of the popular will. Toleration was, with him, genuine liberty of conscience to every man who was not prepared to make his religion a cloak for anarchy and treason. Dissimulation !—I do think, after a careful study of his character, that of dissimulation, in its bad sense. Cromwell was incapable. He was a man scarcely ever equalled in decision and self-reliance, and therefore he kept his own counsel without an effort. But in his dealings with the King, with the Scottish Presbyterians, with his own parliaments, and witb foreign courts, there is such a dogged straightforwardness; and in his very breaches of constitutional forms, such a steadiness of purpose in going by the very shortest way to the end he aimed at, that I cannot but think it will yet become matter of astonishment that such a charge should ever have been entertained. But the reader has now the argument before him, and the evidence at his command, Truth, not victory, is the aim of the historian, and truth is the daughter of time.

D, W.
EDIN BURGH, 18th APRIL, 1648,

« ZurückWeiter »