Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

INTRODUCTORY.

I.

CONFLICTING THEORIES OF CROMWELL'S

LIFE.

CHAPTER I.

CONFLICTING THEORIES OF CROMWELL'S LIFE.

IN

N one of those stately old folio histories in which

our forefathers wrote the chronicles of England more than a century since, it was the wont of our dear old nurse, who supplied the place of a mother to us, to permit us to look, when the rare occasion came round on which we were rewarded because we had behaved somewhat better than usual. But well do we remember, as we looked at the full-length portraits of the kings, and from these full-length portraits derived sometimes a better idea of the men than from the pages of the letterpress-midway through the book we came to a portrait that puzzled us: it stood opposite the page headed, “InterregnumCommonwealth.” Yes, there stood a rough, robust being, without a crown, and yet with a most ominous hat upon his head, a broad-brimmed and steeplecrowned hat, like that we had seen on the heads of witches: and we could not but say to our old nurse, “What does he here?”

Our old nurse was a woman, therefore a Royalist and Conservative. Moreover, she was very old, and her memory touched the generation which had heard Cromwell talked about. From her we gathered that the reason why this broad-hatted person stood there, was because he was a very badly-behaved character, and would on no account be induced to take his hat off, even before his king. We tried to make it out; the story was very dark to us. But the son of our nurse was a very fine and thoughtful man; and when to him we used to say, “Why does he stand there with only a hat on ?

Why has everybody else a crown, and he no crown ?” then he would tell us that he believed that there was more in his head beneath a hat than in those of any of the other kings who wore a crown, and that he was more king-like than all the kings. Thus our historical apprehensions were confused-as many wiser heads have been-at the commencement of our studies; and even from our very earliest days we stumbled, and became perplexed, over the two theories of Cromwell's character.

For it may be, perhaps, asserted, that the variety of opinion with reference to the character of Cromwell is almost as diversified as ever, although the collection of his letters and speeches by Thomas Carlyle has done so much to set him forth in a fair and honourable light, for which even those most enthusiastic for the career he represented were scarcely prepared. And it cannot be doubted that the estimate of his character will always be formed, not merely from sympathy with a certain set of opinions, but even more from that strange, occult, and undefinable sentiment which, arising from peculiarity of temperament, becomes the creator of intellectual and even moral appreciation. Hence there are those to whom, whatever may be the amount of evidence for his purity, Cromwell can only be hateful ; while there are others, again, to whom, even if certain flaws or faults of character appear in him, he can only be admirable. It is very interesting to notice the varied estimates which have been formed of this great man, even within the present, or within this and the immediately preceding, generation.

ROBERT SOUTHEY, for instance, a pleasant and venerable name in recent English letters, wrote a life of Cromwell to sustain his theory of the great Protector's character. To him Cromwell was “the most fortunate and least flagitious of usurpers; he gained three kingdoms, the price which he paid for them was innocence and peace of mind. He left an imperishable name, so stained with reproach, that notwithstanding the redeeming virtues which adorned him, it were better for him to be forgotten than to be so remembered, and in the world to come, but it is not for us to anticipate the judgments, still less to limit the mercy, of the All-merciful.” And then he continues, " Let us repeat that there is no portion of history in which it so behoves an Englishman to be thoroughly versed as in that of Cromwell's age.” He says, indeed, that “Cromwell's good sense and good nature would have led him to govern equitably and mercifully, to promote literature, to cherish the

« AnteriorContinuar »