Oliver Cromwell: A Dictator's Tragedy

Oliver Cromwell: A Dictator's Tragedy

Oliver Cromwell: A Dictator's Tragedy

Oliver Cromwell: A Dictator's Tragedy

Excerpt

To attempt to write a life of Cromwell so soon after Mr. Buchan's great work would be in the highest degree presumptuous. But this book was in great measure written before Mr. Buchan's appeared. And it is not a life. I have paid very little attention to either military or foreign affairs, but by abstracting it from almost everything else, I have tried to emphasize the great difficulty, the impossibility of "singing a song of reconciliation between the two interests" that Oliver cared most about, the "Liberty of Men professing Godliness under a Variety of Forms and the Civil Liberty of the Nation." For while these interests are not fundamentally and permanently "inconsistent and two different things," in his day "so full of sects whether upon a religious account or upon a civil account," they were, and it was the difficulty, the impossibility, of reconciling them that led to the military despotism and drew from him the bitter cry "Misrule is better than no rule, and an ill government, a bad government, is better than none!"

So his life was a tragedy of conflicting ideals, his career a successful failure. He rose to be the head of the state, but even Mr. Belloc, prejudiced as he is against Cromwell, entitles his chapter dealing with the dictatorship "Reluctant Power." And he was not able to use that power to bring about the ends that he desired. By his sword he had saved parliamentary government for England, yet, largely because it conflicted with his other ideal, religious toleration, he was not in his own day, able to put it into successful practice. The religious toleration that he longed for came in time, but it is probable that, by associating it with a military despotism that he hated but could not escape, he retarded rather than hastened it, and his attempt to raise his countrymen to a higher moral and spiritual level was followed by the license of the Restoration period. In the main his failure was due not to his mistakes, but to the circumstances with which he had to deal, the men with whom he had to work. That was the tragedy of it. But a man should be judged not so much by what he accomplishes as by what he aims at.

I have to thank the Earl of Sandwich for showing me over Hinchingbrooke and letting me see the diary of his ancestor, the first Earl; the Rev. Elliott Simpson, Vicar of St. Mary's, Ely, for entertaining me at the Vicarage, once Cromwell's home; and especially Professor Trevelyan, who has read my manuscript. Grateful acknowledgment is also made to my lifelong friend, Miss E. Grace Briggs, who has prepared the index.

MARY TAYLOR BLAUVELT.

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