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in the chancel of Ramsey church, in order to prevent his body being seized for debt.1
But although we linger thus long upon the ancestry and relationships of Oliver (perhaps it may be thought too long), it must not be supposed that we do so from any foolish effort to disconnect him from the ranks of toil and labour. The truth appears to be that Mr. Robert Cromwell, the brother of Sir Oliver, was by no means his brother's equal in either position or wealth. The honours of the family would be, of course, reflected upon him, but his income never exceeded, independently, £ 300 per annum, and it is certain that he sought to increase his fortune by engaging in trade. He appears to have been a brewer, but he was also a justice of the peace for Huntingdon. He represented the same town in Parliament in the thirty-fifth of Elizabeth ; and he was one of the commissioners for draining the fens. He appears to have been a plain and simple country gentleman; but it is probable his intercourse with the world had enabled him to give to his son views of men and things which might materially influence his impressions in after life.
Oliver Cromwell, one of the most illustrious captains on the field and legislators in the cabinet of any age, was born at Huntingdon, April 25th, 1599.
1 The reader may recall one of the most charming of the imaginary conversations of Walter Savage Landor as being between old Sir Oliver and his nephew and namesake, beneath the gateway of Ramsey Abbey.
In the region of the Fens, then, our English hero was reared ; a quiet, picturesque region, far removed from any bold or exciting scenery. There, now as then, the quiet waters of the winding Ouse pursue their way amidst sedgy banks and stunted poplars and willows; amidst fields not so well drained then as now, and amidst scenes farther removed than now they seem from the noise of the great world. There the mystery of life fell upon him; and in rambles about Godmanchester, and Houghton, and Warbois, and the Upper and Lower Hemingfords—all of them at that time having the reputation of being witchhaunted, and therefore under the atrocious visitations of Matthew Hopkins—there, in these spots, Oliver found his sport-places and play-grounds, and there, no doubt, his young mind was haunted by strange dreams. We need not keep our readers with narrations as to how he was saved from drowning by one who wished afterwards that he had let him drown; how he wrestled with little Charles, Prince of Wales, as he came along that way with his father, James I., and enjoyed the hospitality of old Sir Oliver Cromwell, at Hinchinbrook; how he was endangered and saved, in his childhood, from death, by a monkey.
His very infancy,” says Noble,—“ if we believe what Mr. Audley, brother to the famous civilian, says he heard some old men tell his grandfather-was marked with a peculiar accident, that seemed to threaten the existence of the future Protector: for his grandfather, Sir Henry Cromwell, having sent for
him to Hinchinbrook-near Huntingdon, the ancient family seat-when an infant in arms, a monkey took him from his cradle, and ran with him upon the lead that covered the roofing of the house. Alarmed at the danger Oliver was in, the family brought beds to catch him upon, fearing the creature's dropping him down; but the sagacious animal brought the *Fortune of England' down in safety ; so narrow an escape had he, who was doomed to be the Conqueror and Magistrate of three mighty nations, from the paws of a monkey. He is also said to have been once saved from drowning by a Mr. Johnson, Curate of Cunnington; a fact inore credible, perhaps, for that the same worthy clergyman should at a future period, when Oliver was marching at the head of his troops through Huntingdon, have told him, that he 'wished he had put him in, rather than have seen him in arms against the king :'" the latter part of which story is probably a loyal but fabulous appendage tagged, after the Restoration, to the former.
Anecdotes of the first days of men who have attained to any kind of command over their fellows are frequently important; they give a clue to the state of opinion about them during their lifetime. It is probable that most of such stories, although somewhat inflated in their tone, may yet have a fundamental substance of truth and dramatic propriety. Thus there are a few tales told of our hero which do appear to be, in no slight degree, illustrative of his after life ; and thus we should expect it to be. Manhood is
contained in boyhood ; do we not often echo the words of our poet, "the child is father to the man”? We cannot conceive Oliver inferior to his young comrades, either in physical or mental prowess: he was, beyond all doubt, a burly little Briton, with large resources of strength; and from a shrewd comprehension of things, whether in sport or in school, and a musing, dreamy, half poetic (in those days), all enthusiastic temperament, was, no doubt, frequently carried far out of the reach of his playmates and companions. All childhoods are not cheerful, all childhoods are not exempt from care. Strong and sensitive natures are stamped with a wonderful precocity; even in their cradles the shadows of future achievements, the prophecies of unperformed actions, cross the path. Dim and undefined, like worlds not realized, their destiny rises before them like a painting on the mist, even in the very earliest of their years; and Oliver was of that peculiar temperament, that it seems necessary to believe that such a boyhood was his.
He went to Huntingdon Free Grammar School, and the place we believe is still shown where he sat and studied his first lessons. Heath, a scurrilous compiler of a life of Cromwell, who has been handed down to future years by Carlyle under the patronymic of “ Carrion Heath,” has, with a laudable zeal, chronicled the number of dovecotes robbed by our daring little Protector; with a meanness of malice unequalled, he has recounted his adventures in breaking into orchards, and other such juvenile offences. For our part, we do not doubt both his capabilities and disposition for such adventures.
More interesting will it be for us to notice the various traditions that have come down to us of the feats and appearances of those early days. Especially is it recorded that Charles I., when a child, was with his father, the king, at Hinchinbrook House, the seat of Sir Oliver, of whom we have made mention above ; he was then Duke of York, And that he should visit the old knight is very likely, as we do know that many times the hospitable gates were thrown open to the monarch and his family, either going to or returning from the north to the English capital. But upon this occasion the future monarch and future Protector met, and engaged each other in childish sport, in which Charles got the worst of it. For what fixed the attention of the lovers of
prognostications in that and succeeding ages, was that “the youths had not been long together before Charles and Oliver disagreed ; and, as the former was then as weakly as the latter was strong, it was no wonder that the royal visitant was worsted; and Oliver, even at this age, so little regarded dignity, that he made the royal blood flow in copious streams from the prince's nose.” “This,” adds the author, “ was looked upon as a bad presage for the king when the civil wars commenced.”
Certainly there is nothing unlikely or improbable in this anecdote. If Charles visited Hinchinbrook