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Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 61, No. 378, April, 1847   By:

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BLACKWOOD'S

EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.

No. CCCLXXVIII. APRIL, 1847. VOL. LXI

CROMWELL.

Mr Carlyle's services to history in collecting and editing these letters[1] and speeches of Cromwell, all men will readily and gratefully acknowledge. A work more valuable as a guide to the study of the singular and complex character of our pious revolutionist, our religious demagogue, our preaching and praying warrior and usurper, has not been produced. There is another portion of Mr Carlyle's labours which will not meet so unanimous an approbation. As editor , Mr Carlyle has given us a valuable work; as commentator , the view which he would teach us to take of English Puritanism is, to our thinking, simply the most paradoxical, absurd, unintelligible, mad business we ever encountered in our lives.

Our Hero worshipper, it must be allowed, has been more fortunate this time in the selection of his object of devotion than when he shouted to the skies his Mirabeaus and Dantons. But he makes an unfortunate species of compensation. In proportion as his hero is more within the bounds of humanity has his worship become more extravagant and outrageous. He out puritans the Puritans; he is more fanatic than his idol; he has chosen to express himself with such a righteous truculence, such a sanguinary zeal, such a pious contempt for human virtue and human sympathies, as would have startled Old Noll himself. It is a bad religion this hero worship at least as practised by Mr Carlyle. Here is our amiable countryman rendered by it, in turn, a terrorist and a fanatic. All his own intellectual culture he throws down and abandons. Such dire transformation ensues as reminds us of a certain hero worship which Milton has celebrated:

"Horror on him falls, And horrid sympathy ; for what he sees He feels himself, now changing; down his arms, Down falls the spear and shield; down he as fast; And the dire hiss renews, and the dire form, Catched by contagion."

But to our task which is no light one; for in our survey of this book we have to keep in view both hero and hero worshipper, Cromwell and Carlyle, both somewhat slippery personages, abnormal, enigmatical.

The speeches of Oliver Cromwell have a formidable reputation for prolixity, confusion, and excessive tediousness; yet we have not, for our own part, found these volumes to be of the dry and scarce readable description which their title foreboded; and we would caution others not to be deterred by any fears of this nature from their perusal. They will find an interest grow upon them as they proceed, and the last volume to be more attractive than the first. As the work advances, the letters and speeches of Cromwell become more intimately connected with the great transactions of the period, and the editor himself more frequently favours us with some specimen of his happier manner, where concentration of style, a spirit of humour and reflection, and a power of vivid portraiture, have not degenerated into mere quaintness, into a species of slang, into Carlylisms , into vague generalities about infinitudes and eternities. At all times the interspersed commentary written in that peculiar, fantastic, jingling manner which, illegitimate as it is, disorderly and scandalous to all lovers of propriety in style and diction, is at all events the very opposite to dulness forms perhaps the most fortunate contrast that could have been devised with the Cromwellian period, so arid and colourless, so lengthy and so tortuous, tinged often with such a dismal obscurity, and valuable in fact only as showing the man , utterly valueless as an exposition of thought. Perhaps, as models of style, a critic would be as little disposed to applaud the writing of Mr Carlyle as the compositions of Cromwell, but they form here all admirable relief the one to the other; taken together, one can consume a considerable quantity of both... Continue reading book >>


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