The Lord Protector: Religion and Politics in the Life of Oliver Cromwell

By Robert S. Paul | Go to book overview

PREFACE

RALPH WALDO EMERSON'S observation that "there is properly no history; only biography" would be a commonplace by now, were it not for a moderate reaction which declares that there is properly no biography; only history.

Perhaps the protest is a necessary corrective to the enthusiastic Carlyles and Macaulays who expounded history as an epic of the world's great ones, and who regarded the facts of history as little more than the homage paid to the eternal Hero by his generation. Whatever needs to be said in qualification of the reaction, it is a healthy reminder that a man cannot be separated from his environment--that there is for us, heroes included, a time to be born, and that we are bound to it, and conditioned by it.

Nevertheless, when we have said that, there still remains something within human character which is unique, timeless and which eludes definition. Oliver Cromwell is an illustration of this. Biographies of the Lord Protector have appeared regularly since the time of his death, and will probably continue to appear at regular intervals, because beyond the factors of time and place one recognizes within his personality an irreducible element which remains an enigma. So to Dr. S. R. Gardiner Cromwell was "the most typical Englishman of all time", to Sir Ernest Barker he was "the incarnation . . . of the genius of English Nonconformity", to Wilbur Cortez Abbott he was the prototype, if not the archetype, of modern dictatorship.

The place of Oliver Cromwell in English history, however, has an importance beyond the riddle of his own personality, for the seventeenth century may well be described as the meeting ground of the ages of Faith and the Age of Reason, and within such a setting Cromwell is in any case a figure worthy of careful study. His significance is made more pointed by the fact that his Independent or Congregational churchmanship, with roots in Separatism and spiritual "democracy", appears to run counter to so much within his life, and we submit that the issues raised by

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