Thomas Carlyle.

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' Index for these huge books ! Even your genius, had you
' been faithful, was adequate to that. Those thirty thousand
' or fifty thousand old Newspapers and Pamphlets of the King's
' Library, it is you, my voluminous friend, that should have

* sifted them, many long years ago. Instead of droning out


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' these melancholy scepticisms, constitutional philosophies, tor-

* pedo narratives, you should have sifted those old stacks of

* pamphlet-matter for us, and have had the metal grains lying
' here accessible, and the dross-heaps lying there avoidable ;
' you had done the human memory a service thereby ; some
' human remembrance of this matter had been more possible !'

Certainly this description does not want for emphasis : but
all ingenuous inquirers into the Past will say there is too much
truth in it. Nay, in addition to the sad state of our Historical
Books, and what indeed is fundamentally the cause and origin
of that, our common spiritual notions, if any notion of ours may
still deserve to be called spiritual, are fatal to a right under-
standing of that Seventeenth Century. The Christian Doc-
trines which then dwelt alive in every heart, have now in a
manner died out of all hearts, — very mournful to behold ; and
are not the guidance of this world any more. Nay worse still,
the Cant of them does yet dwell alive with us, little doubting
tiiat it is Cant ; — in which fatal intermediate state the Eternal
Sacredness of this Universe itself, of this Human Life itself,
has fallen dark to the most of us, and we think that too a Cant
and a Creed. Thus tiie old names suggest new things to us, —
not august and divine, but hypocritical, pitiable, detestable.
The old names and similitudes of belief still circulate from
tongue to tongue, though now in such a ghastly condition : not
as commandments of the Living God, which we must do, or
perish eternally; alas, no, as something very different from
that ! Here properly lies the grand unintelligibility of the
Seventeenth Century for us. From this source has proceeded
our maltreatment of it, our miseditings, miswritings, and all
the other ' avalanche of Human Stupidity,' wherewith, as our
impatient friend complains, we have allowed it to be over-
whelmed. We have allowed some other things to be over-
whelmed ! Would to Heaven that were the worst fruit we had
gathered from our Unbelief and our Cant of Belief ! — Our im-
patient friend continues :

' I have known Nations altogether destitute of printer's-

* types and learned appliances, with nothing better than old


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Chap. L AliriM)BYASDXXST. 7

^ songSy moTinmeirtaJ stondies^s and Qttip(h*thnimi to keep re-
^ cord hj, who had tmer memory of their memorable things
^ than this ! Tmer memory, I say : for at least the voice of
' their Past Heroisms, if indistinct, and all awry as to dates
' and statistics^ was still melodious to those Nations. The body
^ of it might be dead enough ; but the soul of it, partly harmon-
' ised, put in real accordance with the " Eternal Melodies," was
' alive to all hearts, and could not die. The memory of their

* ancient Brave Ones did not rise like a hideous huge leaden
' vapour, an amorphous emanation of Chaos, like a petrifying

* Medusa Spectre, on those poor Nations : no, but like a Hea-
^ ven's Apparition, which it was, it still stood radiwit beneficent
^ before all hearts, calling all hearts to emulate it, and the re-
' cognition of it was a Psalm and Song. These things will

* require to be practically meditated by and by. Is human
' Writing, then, the art of burying Heroisms and highest Facts
' in Chaos ; so that no man shall henceforth contemplate them

* without horror and aversion, and danger of locked-jaw ? What
' does Dryasdust consider that he was born for ; that paper

* and ink were made for ?

^ It is very notable, and leads to endless reflections, how the
' Greeks had their living Iliad, where we have such a deadly

* indescribable Cromwelliad. The old Pantheon, home of all
' the gods, has become a Peerage-Book, — ^with black and white
' surplice-controversies superadded, not unsuitably. The Greeks
' had their Homers, Hesiods, where we have our Eymers, Kush-

* worths, pur Norroys, Garter -Kings, and Bishops Cobweb.
' Very notable, I say. By the genius, wants and instincts and
' opportunities of the one People, striving to keep themselves
' in mind of what was memorable, there had fashioned itself, in

* the effort of successive centuries, a Homer's Iliad : by those

* of the other People, in successive centuries, a Collins' s Peer-
' age improved by Sir Egerton Brydges. By their Pantheons ye
' shall know them! Have not we English a talent for Silence ?
' Our very Speech and Printed-Speech, such a force of torpor
' dwelling in it, is properly a higher power of Silence. There
' is no Silence like the Speech you cannot listen to without

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* danger of locked-jaw ! Given a divine Heroism, to smother

* it well in human DulnSss, to touch it with the mace of Death,

* so that no human soul shall henceforth recognise it for a

* Heroism, but all souls shall fly from it as from a chaotic

* Torpor, an Insanity and Horror, — I will back our English

* genius against the world in such a problem !

* Truly we have done great things in that sort ; down from

* Norman William all the way, and earlier : and to the English
' mind at this hour, the past History of England is little other

* than a dull dismal labyrinth, in which the English mind, if

* candid, will confess that it has found of knowable (meaning
' even conceivable) , of lovable, or memorable, — next to nothing.

* As if we had done no brave thing at all in this Earth ; — as

* if not Men but Nightmares had written of our History ! The
' English, one can discern withal, have been perhaps as brave

* a People as their neighbours ; perhaps, for Valour of Action

* and true hard labour in this Earth, since brave Peoples were
' first made in it, there has been none braver anywhere or any-

* when : — but, also, it must be owned, in Stupidity of Speech

* they have no fellow ! What can poor English Heroisms do

* in such case, but fall torpid into the domain of the Night-

* mares ? For of a truth. Stupidity is strong, most strong.
' As the Poet Schiller sings : " Against Stupidity the very gods

* fight unvictorious." There is in it an opulence of murky

* stagnancy, an inexhaustibility, a calm infinitude, which will

* baflBe even the gods, — which will say calmly, " Yes, try all

* your lightnings here ; see whether my dark belly cannot hold

* them !"

" Mit der Dummlieit kampfen Goiter selbst vei^gebens." '

Has our impatient friend forgotten that it is Destiny withal
as well as * Stupidity ;' that such is the case more or less with
Human History always ! By very nature it is a labyrinth and
chaos, this that we call Human History ; an abatis of trees and
brushwood, a world-wide jungle, at once growing and dying.
Under the green foliage and blossoming fruit-trees of Today,
there lie, rotting slower or faster, the forests of all other Years
and Days. Some have rotted fast, plants of annual growth,


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and are long since quite gone to inorganic mould ; others are
like the aloe, growths that last a thousand or three thousand
years. You will find them in all stages of decay and preser-
vation ; down deep to the beginnings of the History of Man.
Think where our Alphabetic Letters came from, where our
Speech itself came from ; the Cookeries we live by, the Mason-
ries we lodge under ! You will find fibrous roots of this day's
Occurrences among the dust of Cadmus and Trismegistus, of
Tubalcain and Triptolemus ; the tap-roots of them are with
Father Adam himself and the cinders of Eve's first fire ! At
bottom, there is no perfect History; there is none such con-

All past Centuries have rotted down, and gone confusedly
dumb and quiet, even as that Seventeenth is now threatening to
do. Histories are as perfect as the Historian is wise, and is
gifted with an eye and a soul ! For the leafy blossoming Pre-
sent Time springs from the whole Past, remembered and unre-
memberable, so confusedly as we say: — and truly the Art of
History, the grand difference between a Dryasdust and a sacred
Poet, is very much even this : To distinguish well what does
still reach to the surface, and is alive and frondent for us ; and
what reaches no longer to the surface, but moulders safe under-
ground, never to send forth leaves or fruit for mankind any
more : of the former we shall rejoice to hear ; to hear of the
latter will be an aflSiction to us ; of the latter only Pedants and
Dullards, and disastrous ?nafefactors to the world, will find good
to speak. By wise memory and by wise oblivion : it lies all
there ! Without oblivion, there is no remembrance possible.
When both oblivion and memory are wise, when the general
soul of man is clear, melodious, true, there may come a modem
Iliad as memorial of the Past : when both are foolish, and the
general soul is overclouded with confusions, with unveracities
and discords, there is a ' Kushworthian chaos.' Let Dryasdust
be blamed, beaten with stripes if you will ; but let it be with
pity, with blame to Fate chiefly. Alas, when sacred Priests
are arguing about 'black and white surplices;' and sacred Poets
have long professedly deserted Truth, and gone a woolgathering

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after 'Ideals^' and suchlike, what can you expect of poor secular
Pedants? The labyrinth of History must grow ever darker,
more intricate and dismal ; vacant cargoes of ' Ideals' will ar-
rive yearly, to be cast into the oven ; and noble Heroisms of
Fact, given up to Dryasdust, will be buried in a very disastrous
manner ! —

But the thing we had to say and repeat was this, That
Puritanism is not of the Nineteenth .Century, but of the Seven-
teenth ; that the grand unintelligibility for us lies there. The
Fast-day Sermons of St. Margaret's Church Westminster, in
spite of printers, are all grown dumb! In long rows of little
dumpy quartos, gathered from the bookstalls, they indeed stand
here bodily before u& : by human volition they can be read, but
not by any human memory remembered. We forget them as^
soon as read ; they have become a weariness to the soul of man.
They are dead and gone, they and what they shadowed; th^
human soul, got into other latitudes, cannot now give harbour
to them. Alas, and did not the honourable Houses of Parlia-
ment listen to them with rapt earnestness, as to an indisputable
message from Heaven itself? Learned and painful Dr. Owen,
learned and painful Dr. Burgess ; Stephen Marshall, Mr. Spur-
stow, Adoniram Byfield, Hugh Peters, Philip Nye: the Printer
has done for them what he could, and Mr. Speaker gave them
the thanks of the House : — and no most astonishing Eeview-
Article, or tenth-edition Pamphlet, of our day can have half
such * brilliancy,' such * spirit,' * eloquence,' — such virtue to
produce belief, which is the highest and in reality the only
literary success, — as these poor little dumpy quartos once had*
And behold, they are become inarticulate quartos; spectral;
and instead of speaking, do but screech and gibber ! All Puri-
tanism has grown inarticulate ; its fervent preachings, prayings,
pamphleteerings are sunk into one indiscriminate moaning hum,
mournful as the voice of subterranean winds. So much falls
silent: human Speech, unless by rare chance it touch on the
'Eternal Melodies,' and harmonise with them; human Action,
Interest, if divorced from the Eternal Melodies, sinks all silent.
The fashion of this world passeth away.

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The Age of the Poritans is not extinct only and gone
away from us, but it is as if fallen beyond the capabilities
of Memory herself; it is grown unintelligible, what we may
call incredible. Its earnest Purport awakens now no resonance
in our frivolous hearts. We understand not even in imagina-
tion, one of a thousand of us, what it ever could have meant.
It seems delirious, delusive ; the sound of it has become tedi-
ous as a tale of past stupidities. Not the body of heroic Puri-
tanism only, which was bound to die, but the soul of it also,
which was and should have been, and yet shall be immortal,
has for the present passed away. As Harrison said of his
Banner, and Lion of the Tribe of Judah : '^ Who shall rouse
him up T—

' For indisputably,' exclaims the above-cited Author in his
vehwnent way, 'this too was a Heroism; and the soul of it

* remains part of the eternal soul of things ! Here, of our own
' land and lineage, in practical English shape, were Heroes on

* the Earth once more. Who knew in every fibre, and with
' heroic daring laid to heart, That an Almighty Justice does

* verily rule this world ; that it is good to fight on God's side,
^ and bad to fight on the Devil's side ! The essence of all

* Heroisms and Veracities that have been, or that will be. —
' Perhaps it was among the nobler and noblest Human Hero-

* isms, this Puritanism of ours : but English Dryasdust could
' not discern it for a Heroism at all ; — as the Heaven's light-
' ning, bom of its black tempest, and destructive to pestilential

* Mud-giants, is mere horror and terror to the Pedant species

* everywhere ; which, like the owl in any sudden brightness,

* has to shut its eyes, — or hastily procure smoked-spectacles on

* an improved principle. Heaven's brightness would be intoler-
' able otherwise. Only your eagle dares look direct into the

* fire-radiance ; only your Schiller climbs aloft " to discover

* whence the lightning is coming." " Godlike men love light-

* ning," says one. Our old Norse fathers called it a God; the
' sunny blue-eyed Thor, with his all-conquering thunder-ham-

* mer, — ^who again, in calmer season, is beneficent Summer-heat..
' Godless men, love it not ; shriek murder when they see it ;

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' shutting their eyes, and hastily procuring smoked-spectacles.

* Dryasdust, thou art great and thrice-great !'

'But, alas,' exclaims he elsewhere, getting his eye on the
real nodus of the matter, ' what is it, all this Kushworthian in-

* articulate rubbish-continent, in its ghastly dim twilight, with

* its haggard wrecks and pale shadows ; what is it, but the

* common Kingdom of Death ? This is what we call Death,
' this mouldering dumb wilderness of things once alive. Be-
' hold here the final evanescence of Formed human things ;

* they had form, but they are changing into sheer formlessness ;
' — ancient human speech itself has sunk into unintelligible

* maundering. This is the collapse, — ^the etiolation of human

* features into mouldy blank ; dissolution ; progress towards

* utter silence and disappearance ; disastrous ever-deepening

* Dusk of Gods and Men ! Why has the living ventured

* thither, down from the cheerful light, across the Lethe-swamps
' and Tartarean Phlegethons, onwards to these baleful halls of

* Dis and the three-headed Dog ? Some Destiny drives him.
' It is his sins, I suppose : — ^perhaps it is his love, strong as

* that of Orpheus for the lost Eurydice, and likely to have no

* better issue!* —

Well, it would seem the resuscitation of a Heroism from the
Past Time is no easy enterprise. Our impatient friend seems
really getting sad ! We can well believe him, there needs pious
love in any ' Orpheus' that will risk descending to the Gloomy
Halls ; — descending, it may be, and fronting Cerberus and Dis,
to no purpose ! For it oftenest proves so ; nay, as the Mytho-
logists would teach us, always. Here is another Mythus. Bal-
der the white Sungod, say our Norse Skalds, Balder, beautiful
as the summer-dawn, loved of Gods and men, was dead. His
Brother Hermoder, urged by his Mother's tears and the tears of
the Universe, went forth to seek him. He rode through gloomy
winding valleys, of a dismal leaden colour, full of howling winds
and subterranean torrents; nine days; ever deeper, down to-
wards Hela's Death-realm: at Lonesome Bridge, which, with
its gold gate, spans the Eiver of Moaning, he found the Por-


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tress, an ancient woman, called Modgudr, * the Vexer of Minds,'
keeping watch as usual : Modgudr answered him, " Yes, Balder
passed this way ; but he is not here ; he is down yonder, — far,
still far to the North, within Hela's Gates yonder." Hermoder
rode on, still dauntless, on his horse, named ^Swiftness' or
* Mane of Gold ;' reached Hela's Gates ; leapt sheer over them,
mounted as he was ; saw Balder, the very Balder, with his eyes :
— ^but could not bring him back ! The Nomas were inexorable ;
Balder was never to come back. Balder beckoned him mourn-
fully a still adieu ; Nanna, Balder's Wife, sent * a thimble' to

her mother as a memorial : Balder never could return ! ^Is

not this an emblem ? Old Portress Modgudr, I take it, is Dry-
asdust in Norse petticoat and hood ; a most unlovely beldame,
the * Vexer of Minds' !

We will here take final leave of our impatient friend, occu-
pied in this almost desperate enterprise of his ; we will wish
him, which it is very easy to do, more patience^ and better
success than he seems to hope. And now to our own small
enterprise, and solid despatch of business in plain prose !

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Ours Ib a very small enterprise, but seemingly a useful one ;
preparatory perhaps to greater and more useful, on this same
matter : The collecting of the Letters and Speeches of Oliver
Cromwell, and presenting them in natural sequence, mth the
still possible elucidation, to ingenuous readers. This is a thing
that can be done ; and after some reflection, it has appeared
worth doing. No great thing : one other dull Book added to
the thousand, dull every one of them, which have been issued
on this subject! But situated as we are, new Dulness is un-
happily inevitable ; readers do not reascend out of deep con-
fusions without some trouble as they climb.

These authentic utterances of the man Oliver himself — ^I
have gathered them from far and near; fished them up from
the foul Lethean quagmires where they lay buried; I have
washed, or endeavoured to wash them clean from foreign stu-
pidities (such a job of buckwashing as I do not long to repeat) ;
and the world shall now see them in their own shape. Work-
ing for long years in those unspeakable Historic Provinces, of
which the reader has already had account, it becomes more
and more apparent to one. That this man Oliver Cromwell
was, as the popular fancy represents him, the soul of the Puri-
tan Eevolt, without whom it had never been a revolt transcend-
ently memorable, and an Epoch in the World's History ; that
in fact he, more than is common in such cases, does deserve
to give his name to the Period in question, and have the Puri-
tan Eevolt considered as a Cromwelliad, which issue is already
very visible for it. And then farther, altogether contrary to
the popular fancy, it becomes apparent that this Oliver was


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not a man of MselioodB, but a man of truths ; whose words
do carry a meaning with them, and above all others of that
time are worth considering. His words, — and still more his
silences, and unconscious instincts, when you have spelt and
lovingly deciphered these also out of his words, — ^will in several
ways reward the study of an earnest man. An earnest man,
I apprehend, may gather from these words of Oliver's, were
there even no other evidence, that the character of Oliver^ and
of the AjfiFairs he worked in, is much the reverse of that mad
jumble of * hypocrisies,' &c. &c., which at present passes cur-
rent as such.

But certainly, on any hypothesis as to that, such a set of
Documents may hope to be elucidative in various respects.
Oliver's Character, and that of Oliver's Performance in this
world : here best of all may we expect to read it, whatsoever
it was. Even if false, these words, authentically spoken and
written by the chief actor in the business, must be of prime
moment for understanding of it. These are the words this
man found suitablest to represent the Things themselves, around
him, and in him, of which we seek a History. The newborn
Things and Events, as they bodied themselves forth to Oliver
Cromwell from the Whirlwind of the passing Time, — ^this is
the name and definition he saw good to give of them. To
get at these direct utterances of his, is to get at the very heart
of the business ; were there orwe light for us in these, the
business had begun again at the heart of it to be luminous !—
On the whole, we will start with this small service, the Letters
and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell washed into something of
legibility again, as the preliminary of all. May it prosper
with a few serious readers ! The heart of that Grand Puritan
Business once again becoming visible, even in faint twilight,
to mankind, what masses of brutish darkness will gradually
vanish from all fibres of it, from the whole body and environ-
ment of it, and trouble no man any more ! Masses of foul
darkness, sordid confusions not a few, as I calculate, which
now bury this matter very deep, may vanish : the heart of
this matter and the heart of serious men once again brought

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into approximation, to write some ' History' of it may be a Kttle
easier, — for my impatient friend or another.

To dwell on or criticise the particular Biographies of Crom-
well, after what was so emphatically said above on the general
subject, would profit us but little. Criticism of these poor
Books cannot express itself except in language that is painful.
They far surpass in * stupidity' all the celebrations any Hero
ever had in this world before. They are in fact worthy of
oblivion, — of charitable Christian burial.

Mark Noble reckons up some half-dozen * Original Biogra-
phies of Cromwell;'^ all of which and some more I have ex-
amined; but cannot advise any other man to examine. There
are several laudatory, worth nothing ; which ceased to be read
when Charles 11. came back, and the tables were turned. The
vituperative are many : but the origin of them all, the chief
fountain indeed of all the foolish lies that have circulated about
Oliver since, is the mournful brown little Book called Flagellum,
or the Life and Death of 0. Cromwell, the late Usurper, by
James Heath ; which was got ready so soon as possible on the
back of the Annus Mirabilis or Glorious Kestoration,^ and is
written in such spirit as we may fancy. When restored poten-
tates and high dignitaries had dug up ' above a hundred buried
' corpses, and flung them in a heap in St. Margaret's Church-
' yard,' the corpse of Admiral Blake among them, and Oliver's
old Mother's corpse ; and were hanging on Tyburn gallows, as
some small satisfaction to themselves, the dead clay of Oliver,
of Ireton, and Bradshaw ; — ^when high dignitaries and poten-
tates were in such a humour, what could be expected of poor
pamphleteers and garreteers ? Heath's poor little brown lying
Flagellum is described by one of the moderns as a * Flagitium ;'
and Heath himself is called * Carrion Heath,' — as being ' an
' unfortunate blasphemous dullard, and scandal to Humanity; —
' blasphemous, I say ; who when the image of God is shining
* through a man, reckons it in his sordid soul to be the image

1 Noble's Cromwell, L 294-300. His list is very inaccurate and incomplete, but
not worth completing or rectifying. ^ The First Edition seems to be of 1663.


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* of the Devil, and acts accordingly ; who in fact has no soul,
' except what saves him the expense of salt ; who intrinsically

* is Carrion and not Humanity :' which seems hard measure
to poor James Heath. * He was the son of the King's Cutler,'
says Wood, * and wrote pamphlets,' the hest he was able, poor
man. He has become a dreadfully dull individual, in addition
to all ! — ^Another wretched old Book of his, called Chronicle
of the Civil Wars, bears a high price in the Dilettante Sale-
catalogues ; and has, as that Flagellum too has, here and there
a credible trait not met with elsewhere : but in fact, to the
ingenuous inquirer, this too is little other than a tenebrific

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleCollected works, Volume 14 → online text (page 2 of 28)