« ZurückWeiter »
Warburton's admission that he was "the most magnanimous of usurpers," or Burke's still more liberal concession, that when such men put themselves at the head of a nation, "they are not so much usurping power, as asserting their natural position in society."
An Editor's preface, even to a novel bearing the name of Cromwell, is no place for an analysis of his character; but as the sanctity and purity of his private life, except in early youth, have never been impeached, and as the accusations against him in his public capacity mainly resolve themselves into the charges of inordinate ambition and consummate hypocrisy, a few words may perhaps be allowed upon those counts of the indictment.
It will be observed that in the following work the hero is not only made to sanction the questionable tradition of his having once seen a vision, which assured him that he should ultimately become the first man in England, but actually assigns that prophecy as a sort of divine authority for his lofty aspirations. That a religious enthusiast like Cromwell, in an age of great spiritual excitement, when heavenprompted dreams and supernatural revelations were illusions of almost daily occurrence, should
conjure up a prophesying phantasm is probable enough; and, indeed, Mr. Forster has adduced abundant evidence to prove that in his boyhood he was subject to morbid hypochondriacal paroxysms, which savoured of temporary hallucination. But it is not probable, if both "fate and metaphysical aid" had thus conspired to "have him crowned withal," that he should have remained a mere plodding country-gentleman until his fortieth year, without a single attempt to realize this stimulating prediction, had he been naturally of an ambitious temperament. In the most excitable period of life, and when the country was already agitated by the commencement of those fierce struggles between the King and the Parliament which speedily burst into civil war, we find Cromwell proposing to withdraw from the approaching conflict by emigrating to America, a resolution hardly reconcileable either with the tale of the supposed vision, or the charge of an ungovernable desire of personal aggrandizement. Had there been any seeds of this passion in his earlier mind, must they not have germinated and borne fruit under circumstances so favourable to their growth? Instead of assigning the actions of men to their innate propensities, it would per
haps be more philosophical to affirm, as a general proposition, that characters are rather created than developed by circumstances; a view of human faculties and impulses which will explain many of the seeming contradictions in the opposite aspects of Cromwell, at different periods. of his life. Of these external influences the importance, as to results, will of course be commensurate with the power and aptitude of the mind upon which they operate, and we may fairly estimate the superiority of Cromwell's intellect by the skill and courage with which he seized upon opportunities, however unexpected, and moulded them to the lofty purposes which they suggested, and almost called upon him to execute. The civil war gave him rapid promotion in the army-promotion led him to qualify himself for higher command;—his first victory inspired confidence ;-confidence ensured success; and thus the country-gentleman, whose primary exertions in parliament bore reference to the draining of the Cambridge fens, eventually became Lord Protector.
Ambition seems to have been the result rather than the cause of his elevation; and when once exerted, it found its gratification in the aggrandizement of his country rather than of himself;—
in the realization of his patriotic boast that he would cause the name of a Briton to be as much respected throughout the world as ever was that of an antique Roman;-in raising England from the prostration and contempt in which he found her, and into which she so quickly relapsed after his death, to a condition of greater power and dignity than she had ever attained under the most fortunate of her lawful sovereigns; and above all, in enforcing religious toleration, a lofty object, of which, notwithstanding the great peril of its maintenance, in an age of sectarian bigotry, he was ever the steady and uncompromising champion. If this be an inordinate ambition, where shall we look for a patriotism sufficiently pure and restricted to merit our unqualified applause?
To the charge of consummate hypocrisy it is more difficult to provide an answer, since it is one which (in religious matters at least) does not easily admit either of proof or refutation. If we admit him to have been sincerely and deeply inspired with spiritual enthusiasm, at the outset of his career (and this will hardly be denied), who shall fix the exact point, if indeed it ever occurred, when he ceased to deceive himself and began to deceive others? Illusion
often lapses into dissimulation, and not infrequently the process is removed, while the parties themselves remain totally unconscious of the interchange. How then shall others penetrate these inscrutable workings of the human mind? Cromwell's advancement to supreme power in England, and to permanent influence as an European sovereign, assumed so much the appearance of a miracle, that it might well confirm him in the belief of his being a chosen instrument of the Lord, and might thus preserve to the last, in all their ardour, sanctity, and integrity, those devout convictions which, having been imbibed in boyhood, seem to have "grown with his growth, and strengthened with his strength."
From political hypocrisy we shall not attempt to defend him further than by inquiring what king or statesman, either before the days of Machiavel, or since, has ever scrupled to employ finesse in the exercise of his craft? If such men be justified in concealing their real purposes and effecting false ones, why should we condemn the use of similar weapons in the Lord Protector, assailed as he was on all sides by the machinations and manœuvres of many furious factions, and exposed to ever-recurring treasons, strata