Thomas Carlyle.

Sartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history online

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disturb them in that? Many a man, doing loud work in the world, stands
only on some thin traditionality, conventionality; to him indubitable,
to you incredible: break that beneath him, he sinks to endless depths!
"I might have my hand full of truth," said Fontenelle, "and open only
my little finger."

And if this be the fact even in matters of doctrine, how much more in
all departments of practice! He that cannot withal _keep his mind to
himself_ cannot practise any considerable thing whatever. And we call
it 'dissimulation,' all this? What would you think of calling the
general of an army a dissembler because he did not tell every corporal
and private soldier, who pleased to put the question, what his
thoughts were about everything? - Cromwell, I should rather say,
managed all this in a manner we must admire for its perfection. An
endless vortex of such questioning 'corporals' rolled confusedly round
him through his whole course; whom he did answer. It must have been as
a great true-seeing man that he managed this too. Not one proved
falsehood, as I said; not one! Of what man that ever wound himself
through such a coil of things will you say so much? -

* * * * *

But in fact there are two errors, widely prevalent, which pervert to
the very basis our judgments formed about such men as Cromwell; about
their 'ambition,' 'falsity,' and such-like. The first is what I might
call substituting the _goal_ of their career for the course and
starting point of it. The vulgar Historian of a Cromwell fancies that
he had determined on being Protector of England, at the time when he
was ploughing the marsh lands of Cambridgeshire. His career lay all
mapped-out: a program of the whole drama; which he then step by step
dramatically unfolded, with all manner of cunning, deceptive
dramaturgy, as he went on, - the hollow, scheming [Greek: Hypokritês],
or Play-actor that he was! This is a radical perversion; all but
universal in such cases. And think for an instant how different the
fact is! How much does one of us foresee of his own life? Short way
ahead of us it is all dim; an _un_wound skein of possibilities, of
apprehensions, attemptabilities, vague-looming hopes. This Cromwell
had _not_ his life lying all in that fashion of Program, which he
needed then, with that unfathomable cunning of his, only to enact
dramatically, scene after scene! Not so. We see it so; but to him it
was in no measure so. What absurdities would fall-away of themselves,
were this one undeniable fact kept honestly in view by History!
Historians indeed will tell you that they do keep it in view; - but
look whether such is practically the fact! Vulgar History, as in this
Cromwell's case, omits it altogether; even the best kinds of History
only remember it now and then. To remember it duly with rigorous
perfection, as in the fact it _stood_, requires indeed a rare faculty;
rare, nay impossible. A very Shakspeare for faculty; or more than
Shakspeare; who could _enact_ a brother-man's biography, see with the
brother-man's eyes at all points of his course what things _he_ saw;
in short, _know_ his course and him, as few 'Historians' are like to
do. Half or more of all the thick-plied perversions which distort our
image of Cromwell, will disappear, if we honestly so much as try to
represent them so; in sequence, as they _were_; not in the lump, as
they are thrown-down before us.

But a second error, which I think the generality commit, refers to
this same 'ambition' itself. We exaggerate the ambition of Great Men;
we mistake what the nature of it is. Great Men are not ambitious in
that sense; he is a small poor man that is ambitious so. Examine the
man who lives in misery because he does not shine above other men; who
goes about producing himself, pruriently anxious about his gifts and
claims; struggling to force everybody, as it were begging everybody
for God's sake, to acknowledge him a great man, and set him over the
heads of men! Such a creature is among the wretchedest sights seen
under this sun. A _great_ man? A poor morbid prurient empty man;
fitter for the ward of a hospital, than for a throne among men. I
advise you to keep-out of his way. He cannot walk on quiet paths;
unless you will look at him, wonder at him, write paragraphs about
him, he cannot live. It is the _emptiness_ of the man, not his
greatness. Because there is nothing in himself, he hungers and thirsts
that you would find something in him. In good truth, I believe no
great man, not so much as a genuine man who had health and real
substance in him of whatever magnitude, was ever much tormented in
this way.

Your Cromwell, what good could it do him to be 'noticed' by noisy
crowds of people? God his Maker already noticed him. He, Cromwell, was
already there; no notice would make _him_ other than he already was.
Till his hair was grown gray; and Life from the downhill slope was all
seen to be limited, not infinite but finite, and all a measurable
matter _how_ it went, - he had been content to plough the ground, and
read his Bible. He in his old days could not support it any longer,
without selling himself to Falsehood, that he might ride in gilt
carriages to Whitehall, and have clerks with bundles of papers
haunting him, "Decide this, decide that," which in utmost sorrow of
heart no man can perfectly decide! What could gilt carriages do for
this man? From of old, was there not in his life a weight of meaning,
a terror and a splendour as of Heaven itself? His existence there as
man set him beyond the need of gilding. Death, Judgment and Eternity:
these already lay as the background of whatsoever he thought or did.
All his life lay begirt as in a sea of nameless Thoughts, which no
speech of a mortal could name. God's Word, as the Puritan prophets of
that time had read it: this was great, and all else was little to him.
To call such a man 'ambitious,' to figure him as the prurient windbag
described above, seems to me the poorest solecism. Such a man will
say: "Keep your gilt carriages and huzzaing mobs, keep your red-tape
clerks, your influentialities, your important businesses. Leave me
alone, leave me alone; there is _too much of life_ in me already!" Old
Samuel Johnson, the greatest soul in England in his day, was not
ambitious. 'Corsica Boswell' flaunted at public shows with printed
ribbons round his hat; but the great old Samuel stayed at home. The
world-wide soul wrapt-up in its thoughts, in its sorrows; - what could
paradings, and ribbons in the hat, do for it?

Ah yes, I will say again: The great _silent_ men! Looking round on the
noisy inanity of the world, words with little meaning, actions with
little worth, one loves to reflect on the great Empire of _Silence_.
The noble silent men, scattered here and there, each in his
department; silently thinking, silently working; whom no Morning
Newspaper makes mention of! They are the salt of the Earth. A country
that has none or few of these is in a bad way. Like a forest which had
no _roots_; which had all turned into leaves and boughs; - which must
soon wither and be no forest. Woe for us if we had nothing but what we
can _show_, or speak. Silence, the great Empire of Silence: higher
than the stars; deeper than the Kingdoms of Death! It alone is great;
all else is small. - I hope we English will long maintain our _grand
talent pour le silence_. Let others that cannot do without standing on
barrel-heads, to spout, and be seen of all the market-place, cultivate
speech exclusively, - become a most green forest without roots! Solomon
says, There is a time to speak; but also a time to keep silence. Of
some great silent Samuel, not urged to writing, as old Samuel Johnson
says he was, by _want of money_, and nothing other, one might ask,
"Why do not you too get up and speak; promulgate your system, found
your sect?" "Truly," he will answer, "I am _continent_ of my thought
hitherto; happily I have yet had the ability to keep it in me, no
compulsion strong enough to speak it. My 'system' is not for
promulgation first of all; it is for serving myself to live by. That
is the great purpose of it to me. And then the 'honour'? Alas,
yes; - but as Cato said of the statue: So many statues in that Forum of
yours, may it not be better if they ask, Where is Cato's statue?" -

But, now, by way of counterpoise to this of Silence, let me say that
there are two kinds of ambition; one wholly blamable, the other
laudable and inevitable. Nature has provided that the great silent
Samuel shall not be silent too long. The selfish wish to shine over
others, let it be accounted altogether poor and miserable. 'Seekest
thou great things, seek them not:' this is most true. And yet, I say,
there is an irrepressible tendency in every man to develop himself
according to the magnitude which Nature has made him of; to speak-out,
to act-out, what Nature has laid in him. This is proper, fit,
inevitable; nay it is a duty, and even the summary of duties for a
man. The meaning of life here on earth might be defined as consisting
in this: To unfold your _self_, to work what thing you have the
faculty for. It is a necessity for the human being, the first law of
our existence. Coleridge beautifully remarks that the infant learns to
_speak_ by this necessity it feels. - We will say therefore: To decide
about ambition, whether it is bad or not, you have two things to take
into view. Not the coveting of the place alone, but the fitness of the
man for the place withal: that is the question. Perhaps the place was
_his_; perhaps he had a natural right, and even obligation, to seek
the place! Mirabeau's ambition to be Prime Minister, how shall we
blame it, if he were 'the only man in France that could have done any
good there'? Hopefuler perhaps had he not so clearly _felt_ how much
good he could do! But a poor Necker, who could do no good, and had
even felt that he could do none, yet sitting broken-hearted because
they had flung him out, and he was now quit of it, well might Gibbon
mourn over him. - Nature, I say, has provided amply that the silent
great man shall strive to speak withal; _too_ amply, rather!

Fancy, for example, you had revealed to the brave old Samuel Johnson,
in his shrouded-up existence, that it was possible for him to do
priceless divine work for his country and the whole world. That the
perfect Heavenly Law might be made law on this earth; that the prayer
he prayed daily, 'Thy kingdom come,' was at length to be fulfilled! If
you had convinced his judgment of this; that it was possible,
practicable; that he the mournful silent Samuel was called to take a
part in it! Would not the whole soul of the man have flamed up into a
divine clearness, into noble utterance and determination to act;
casting all sorrows and misgivings under his feet, counting all
affliction and contradiction small, - the whole dark element of his
existence blazing into articulate radiance of light and lightning? It
were a true ambition this! And think now how it actually was with
Cromwell. From of old, the sufferings of God's Church, true zealous
preachers of the truth flung into dungeons, whipt, set on pillories,
their ears cropt off, God's Gospel-cause trodden under foot of the
unworthy: all this had lain heavy on his soul. Long years he had
looked upon it, in silence, in prayer; seeing no remedy on Earth;
trusting well that a remedy in Heaven's goodness would come, - that
such a course was false, unjust, and could not last forever. And now
behold the dawn of it; after twelve years silent waiting, all England
stirs itself; there is to be once more a Parliament, the Right will
get a voice for itself: inexpressible well-grounded hope has come
again into the Earth. Was not such a Parliament worth being a member
of? Cromwell threw down his ploughs and hastened thither.

He spoke there, - rugged bursts of earnestness, of a self-seen truth,
where we get a glimpse of them. He worked there; he fought and strove,
like a strong true giant of a man, through cannon-tumult and all
else, - on and on, till the Cause _triumphed_, its once so formidable
enemies all swept from before it, and the dawn of hope had become
clear light of victory and certainty. That _he_ stood there as the
strongest soul of England, the undisputed Hero of all England, - what
of this? It was possible that the law of Christ's Gospel could now
establish itself in the world! The Theocracy which John Knox in his
pulpit might dream of as a 'devout imagination,' this practical man,
experienced in the whole chaos of most rough practice, dared to
consider as capable of being _realised_. Those that were highest in
Christ's Church, the devoutest wisest men, were to rule the land: in
some considerable degree, it might be so and should be so. Was it not
_true_, God's truth? And if _true_, was it not then the very thing to
do? The strongest practical intellect in England dared to answer, Yes!
This I call a noble true purpose; is it not, In its own dialect, the
noblest that could enter into the heart of Statesman or man? For a
Knox to take it up was something; but for a Cromwell, with his great
sound sense and experience of what our world _was_, - History, I think,
shows it only this once in such a degree. I account it the culminating
point of Protestantism; the most heroic phasis that 'Faith in the
Bible' was appointed to exhibit here below. Fancy it: that it were
made manifest to one of us, how we could make the Right supremely
victorious over Wrong, and all that we had longed and prayed for, as
the highest good to England and all lands, an attainable fact!

Well, I must say, the _vulpine_ intellect, with its knowingness, its
alertness and expertness in 'detecting hypocrites,' seems to me a
rather sorry business. We have had one such Statesman in England; one
man, that I can get sight of, who ever had in the heart of him any
such purpose at all. One man, in the course of fifteen hundred years;
and this was his welcome. He had adherents by the hundred or the ten;
opponents by the million. Had England rallied all round him, - why,
then, England might have been a _Christian_ land! As it is, vulpine
knowingness sits yet at its hopeless problem, 'Given a world of
Knaves, to educe an Honesty from their united action;' - how cumbrous a
problem, you may see in Chancery Law-Courts, and some other places!
Till at length, by Heaven's just anger, but also by Heaven's great
grace, the matter begins to stagnate; and this problem is becoming to
all men a _palpably_ hopeless one. -

* * * * *

But with regard to Cromwell and his purposes: Hume and a multitude
following him, come upon me here with an admission that Cromwell _was_
sincere at first; a sincere 'Fanatic' at first, but gradually became a
'Hypocrite' as things opened round him. This of the Fanatic-Hypocrite
is Hume's theory of it; extensively applied since, - to Mahomet and
many others. Think of it seriously, you will find something in it; not
much, not all, very far from all. Sincere hero hearts do not sink in
this miserable manner. The Sun flings forth impurities, gets balefully
incrusted with spots; but it does not quench itself, and become no Sun
at all, but a mass of Darkness! I will venture to say that such never
befell a great, deep Cromwell; I think, never. Nature's own
lion-hearted Son! Antæus-like, his strength is got by _touching the
Earth_, his Mother; lift him up from the Earth, lift him up into
Hypocrisy, Inanity, his strength is gone. We will not assert that
Cromwell was an immaculate man; that he fell into no faults, no
insincerities among the rest. He was no dilettante professor of
'perfections,' 'immaculate conducts.' He was a rugged Orson, rending
his rough way through actual true _work_, - doubtless with many a
_fall_ therein. Insincerities, faults, very many faults daily and
hourly: it was too well known to him; known to God and him! The Sun
was dimmed many a time; but the Sun had not himself grown a Dimness.
Cromwell's last words, as he lay waiting for death, are those of a
Christian heroic man. Broken prayers to God, that He would judge him
and this Cause, He since man could not, in justice yet in pity. They
are most touching words. He breathed out his wild great soul, its
toils and sins all ended now, into the presence of his Maker, in this

I, for one, will not call the man a Hypocrite! Hypocrite, mummer, the
life of him a mere theatricality; empty barren quack, hungry for the
shouts of mobs? The man had made obscurity do very well for him till
his head was gray; and now he _was_, there as he stood recognised
unblamed, the virtual King of England. Cannot a man do without King's
Coaches and Cloaks? Is it such a blessedness to have clerks forever
pestering you with bundles of papers in red tape? A simple Diocletian
prefers planting of cabbages; a George Washington, no very
immeasurable man, does the like. One would say, it is what any genuine
man could do; and would do. The instant his real work were out in the
matter of Kingship, - away with it!

Let us remark, meanwhile, how indispensable everywhere a _King_ is, in
all movements of men. It is strikingly shown, in this very War, what
becomes of men when they cannot find a Chief Man, and their enemies
can. The Scotch Nation was all but unanimous in Puritanism; zealous
and of one mind about it, as in this English end of the Island was far
from being the case. But there was no great Cromwell among them; poor
tremulous, hesitating, diplomatic Argyles and suchlike; none of them
had a heart true enough for the truth, or durst commit himself to the
truth. They had no leader; and the scattered Cavalier party in that
country had one: Montrose, the noblest of all the Cavaliers; an
accomplished, gallant-hearted, splendid man; what one may call the
Hero-Cavalier. Well, look at it; on the one hand subjects without a
King; on the other a King without subjects! The subjects without King
can do nothing; the subjectless King can do something. This Montrose,
with a handful of Irish or Highland savages, few of them so much as
guns in their hands, dashes at the drilled Puritan armies like a wild
whirlwind; sweeps them, time after time, some five times over, from
the field before him. He was at one period, for a short while, master
of all Scotland. One man; but he was a man: a million zealous men, but
_without_ the one; they against him were powerless! Perhaps of all the
persons in that Puritan struggle, from first to last, the single
indispensable one was verily Cromwell. To see and dare, and decide; to
be a fixed pillar in the welter of uncertainty; - a King among them,
whether they called him so or not.

* * * * *

Precisely here, however, lies the rub for Cromwell. His other
proceedings have all found advocates, and stand generally justified;
but this dismissal of the Rump Parliament and assumption of the
Protectorship, is what no one can pardon him. He had fairly grown to
be King in England; Chief Man of the victorious party in England: but
it seems he could not do without the King's Cloak, and sold himself to
perdition in order to get it. Let us see a little how this was.

England, Scotland, Ireland, all lying now subdued at the feet of the
Puritan Parliament, the practical question arose, What was to be done
with it? How will you govern these Nations, which Providence in a
wondrous way has given-up to your disposal? Clearly those hundred
surviving members of the Long Parliament, who sit there as supreme
authority, cannot continue for ever to sit. What _is_ to be done? - It
was a question which theoretical constitution-builders may find easy
to answer; but to Cromwell, looking there into the real practical
facts of it, there could be none more complicated. He asked of the
Parliament, What it was they would decide upon? It was for the
Parliament to say. Yet the Soldiers too, however contrary to Formula,
they who had purchased this victory with their blood, it seemed to
them that they also should have something to say in it! We will not
"For all our fighting have nothing but a little piece of paper." We
understand that the Law of God's Gospel, to which He through us has
given the victory, shall establish itself, or try to establish itself,
in this land!

For three years, Cromwell says, this question had been sounded in the
ears of the Parliament. They could make no answer; nothing but talk,
talk. Perhaps it lies in the nature of parliamentary bodies; perhaps
no Parliament could in such case make any answer but even that of
talk, talk! Nevertheless the question must and shall be answered. You
sixty men there, becoming fast odious, even despicable, to the whole
nation, whom the nation already calls Rump Parliament, _you_ cannot
continue to sit there: who or what then is to follow? 'Free
Parliament,' right of Election, Constitutional Formulas of one sort or
the other, - the thing is a hungry Fact coming on us, which we must
answer or be devoured by it! And who are you that prate of
Constitutional Formulas, rights of Parliament? You have had to kill
your King, to make Pride's Purges, to expel and banish by the law of
the stronger whosoever would not let your Cause prosper: there are but
fifty or three-score of you left there, debating in these days. Tell
us what we shall do; not in the way of Formula, but of practicable

How they did finally answer, remains obscure to this day. The diligent
Godwin himself admits that he cannot make it out. The likeliest is,
that this poor Parliament still would not, and indeed could not
dissolve and disperse; that when it came to the point of actually
dispersing, they again, for the tenth or twentieth time, adjourned
it, - and Cromwell's patience failed him. But we will take the
favourablest hypothesis ever started for the Parliament; the
favourablest, though I believe it is not the true one, but too

According to this version: At the uttermost crisis, when Cromwell and
his Officers were met on the one hand, and the fifty or sixty Rump
Members on the other, it was suddenly told Cromwell that the Rump in
its despair _was_ answering in a very singular way; that in their
splenetic envious despair, to keep-out the army at least, these men
were hurrying through the House a kind of Reform Bill, - Parliament to
be chosen by the whole of England; equable electoral division into
districts; free suffrage, and the rest of it! A very questionable, or
indeed for _them_ an unquestionable thing. Reform Bill, free suffrage
of Englishmen? Why, the Royalists themselves, silenced indeed but not
exterminated, perhaps out_number_ us; the great numerical majority of
England was always indifferent to our Cause, merely looked at it and
submitted to it. It is in weight and force, not by counting of heads,
that we are the majority! And now with your Formulas and Reform Bills,
the whole matter, sorely won by our swords, shall again launch itself
to sea; become a mere hope, and likelihood, _small_ even as a
likelihood? And it is not a likelihood; it is a certainty, which we
have won, by God's strength and our own right hands, and do now hold
_here_. Cromwell walked down to these refractory Members; interrupted
them in that rapid speed of their Reform Bill; - ordered them to
begone, and talk there no more. - Can we not forgive him? Can we not
understand him? John Milton, who looked on it all near at hand, could
applaud him. The Reality had swept the Formulas away before it. I
fancy, most men who were realities in England might see into the
necessity of that.

The strong daring man, therefore, has set all manner of Formulas and
logical superficialities against him; has dared appeal to the genuine
fact of this England, Whether it will support him or not? It is
curious to see how he struggles to govern in some constitutional way;
find some Parliament to support him; but cannot. His first Parliament,
the one they call Barebones's Parliament, is, so to speak, a
_Convocation of the Notables_. From all quarters of England the
leading Ministers and chief Puritan Officials nominate the men most
distinguished by religious reputation, influence and attachment to the
true Cause: these are assembled to shape-out a plan. They sanctioned
what was past; shaped as they could what was to come. They were
scornfully called _Barebones's Parliament_, the man's name, it seems,
was not _Barebones_, but Barbone, - a good enough man. Nor was it a
jest, their work; it was a most serious reality, - a trial on the part
of these Puritan Notables how far the Law of Christ could become the
Law of this England. There were men of sense among them, men of some

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 41 of 43)