Chapter 4, Part 7 of the author's
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n early 1844, when Carlyle determined on the expedient of editing Cromwell's letters and speeches and abandoned his attempt to write a history, he persisted in his intention of making Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches a rewriting of The French Revolution in which revolution would recover rather than destroy authority. In The French Revolution, the narrative of increasing anarchy undermined the narrative in which the revolutionaries were striving to create a new social order by writing a constitution; in Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, Carlyle attempted, without success, to make the narrative in which Cromwell produces order dominate the narrative of increasing anarchy. The Letters and Speeches also persists with the dual purpose of rehabilitating Cromwell's reputation and bringing him back to life to reform nineteenth-century England; yet, while an edition of letters and speeches did succeed in altering the public's perception of Cromwell, it worked against the aim of bringing him back to life (see Frith, I:xxxiii; Abbott, 173-74). The Cromwell whose reputation Carlyle restored remained the Cromwell of the past.
The idea that the Puritans had sought to create a theocratic idyll dominated Carlyle's conception of the Puritan revolution from the beginning of his studies. Whereas the French Revolution had been the unleashing of anarchic forces that destroy the law, the Puritan revolution was the "attempt to bring the Divine Law of the Bible into actual practice in men's affairs on the Earth" (OCLS, 2: 169). "The Theocracy which John Knox in his pulpit might dream of as a 'devout imagination,"' Carlyle wrote in On Heroes and Hero-Worship, Cromwell "dared to consider as capable of being reallsed" (226). The French Revolution was led by atheists who sought to establish democracy according to the gospel of Jean-Jacques Rousseau; the Puritan revolution was led by believers who sought to create a theocracy according to the gospel of Jesus Christ (OCLS, 1: 266). The Puritans sought the ideal union of church and state, making the polity an "emblem" of the transcendental, so "That England should all become a Church" (1:82). Or, as he put it in one manuscript, "Church and State are Theory and Practice. Church is our Theorem of the invisible Eternity, wherein all that we name world in our earthly dialects, all from royal mantles to tinkers' aprons, seems but as an emblematic shadow" (HS, 275-76; see also OCLS, 1:81-82, 3:73-74, 308). [117/118]
Cromwell, the king that Mirabeau might have been, possesses the authority to create this theocratic idyll. He shares with James Carlyle the ability to build and create, to speak and act meaningfully. Whereas the French fail in the attempt to "build" a new society by writing a constitution, Cromwell, an Orphic "melodious Worker" who makes "the stones, rocks, and big blocks dance into figures, into domed cities," successfully "buil[ds] together" a Puritan society (2:226-27, 4:207). Instead of making a constitution like the French, the Puritans let "search be made, Whether there is any King, Könning, Can-ning, or Supremely Able-Man that you can fall in with" (3:81). Cromwell is a "Tower" and his inauguration the "topstone" — recall the toppling "top-paper" of the failed French constitution — of the new social order (4: 196, 124). Convinced that Cromwell's "practical contact with the Highest was a fact," Carlyle insists throughout the Letters and Speeches that his every action — his victories in battle, the execution of Charles I, even the massacres at Drogheda and Wexford — was a manifestation of the divine will: "From Naseby downwards, God, in the battle-whirlwind, seemed to speak and witness very audibly" (1: 395, n. i; see 1: 148, 336, 412, 2:52, 3:46; NL, 1:314)
Yet the Puritan revolution follows the same course as the French Revolution, and Carlyle cannot help comparing them. Like the French, the English feel imprisoned, "pent within old limits" of "untrue Forms," and so rebel against and execute a king who is a "Solecism Incarnate" (HS, 268-69; HHW, 205; FR, 1:22; see OCLS, 2:245). Having destroyed royal authority, they inevitably become "sansculottic" and anarchic (e.g., OCLS, 3:224; see 1:290-91). In revolutionary France every man feels he is a king; in England there is danger of "every man making himself a Minister and Preacher" (FR, 3:40; OCLS, 3:120). The Barebones Parliament is England's "Assembly of Notables, " the First Protectorate Parliament, like the Constituent Assembly, becomes occupied with "Constitution-building," and the "Agreement of the People" is little more than a "Bentham-Sieyes Constitution" (OCLS, 3:41, 156, 2:29; see 25). This era, too, is a "Paper Age," producing "tons of printed paper" (1:290). Instead ofbeing united in Cromwell's theocracy, the nation is fragmented and thrown into civil war, a "Babel" of conflicting parties in which "Every man's hand" is "against his brother" (4:86, 3: io8). just as the last two volumes of The French Revolution depict the French nation drawn into the vortices of anarchy, so the latter two-thirds of Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches depicts [118/119] England threatened by "Abysses" and "black chaotic whirlwinds," the "Hydra" of anarchy provingjust as indestructible as sansculottism (1:318, 3:224, 26o).
If Cromwell succeeds in creating order, he does so not by founding order on a shared set of beliefs but by employing force. Carlyle argues that the people obey Cromwell's orders because they believe he is right, but he frequently finds himselfiustifying Cromwell's arbitrary use of power (e.g., 3:40, 4:15- 18). He argues, for example, that Cromwell is right to "repress" the Scots and "bind" them "in tight manacles" because they are creating anarchic "confusion" (2:170). But England is so far from consensus that Cromwell not only "coerce[s]" royalists and levelers, he even "eject[s]" Puritan ministers who dissent from his views (3:201). Far from creating a paradisal theocracy in which social order reflects transcendental justice, Cromwell must struggle merely to keep the lid on anarchy.
In this regard, Cromwell resembles Dr. Francia, the Paraguayan dictator that Carlyle had defended in an essay written shortly after he completed Past and Present in 1843 and while he was still having difficulties with the Cromwell project. His representation of Francia transforms the career of the man of letters into that of the king by shifting the emphasis from culture and belief to power and the law. Like Carlyle, Francia contemplates a religious vocation, develops hypochondria (a trait shared with Cromwell as well), enters the university, is influenced by the philosophes, quarrels with his father, and shifts his studies to the law. When, soon after the French Revolution, a rebellion tumbles Paraguay into anarchy, he establishes himself as "king" in order to restore social order and ensure that justice is done (CME, 4:305). Placing a high value on work, like all of Carlyle's heroes, Francia orders the capital city to be rebuilt. Yet Francia's success is clearly indebted to the harsh measures he employs to repress the populace. Anticipating his defense of Cromwell's Irish massacres, Carlyle endeavors to explain away Francia's "reign of terror" as a "reign of rigour," but the scaffold Francia raises to warn the people of the cost of disobedience both reminds us that the French "reign of Terror" employed the same menace and reveals that the people must be coerced (CME, 4:302). Carlyle makes no pretense that Francia compels belief; he admires him only because he restores order (see Collmer, Weaver).
Because only Cromwell's personal power sustains the Protectorate [119/120], it cannot survive in his absence. Like Francia and the French, he does not create a cultural consensus that produces order but merely represses disorder. Consequently, with his death, England soon falls "into Kinglessness, what we call Anarchy " (4: 183; see 173). Rather than providing an alternative to the French Revolution, the Puritan revolution, as Carlyle himself acknowledges, inaugurated the era of revolutionary anarchy that would not end until the process initiated by Cromwell was complete.fn40
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Carlyle made a hero of Cromwell by choosing a form, the edition of letters and speeches, that privileges Cromwell's voice, allowing it to dominate and silence the competing voices of revolution. Cromwell remains a hero for Carlyle because he at least made an attempt to create a theocratic idyll and because he managed to hold off anarchy so long as he lived. Whereas the anarchy of the French Revolution had been characterized by the multiple voices of the revolutionary factions, Carlyle's conception of the Puritan era called for the subsumption of the multifarious voices of the seventeenth century into the single voice of Cromwell, a Cromwell Carlyle hoped to invoke in order to restore unity to the fragmented culture of his own century.
The narrative technique of Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches reflects this monologic vision of Puritan culture. Whereas The French Revolution had used the first-person plural to represent the variety of historical actors, and Carlyle's Cromwell manuscripts sometimes suggest the possibility of using lively "dialogues," nothing like this appears in the final text of the Letters and Speeches.fn41 When Carlyle does use the first-person technique, it almost invariably represents the privileged voices of Cromwell or the Puritans; instead of representing a debate among competing factions, it asserts the dominance of the Puritan ethos and manifests the identification between Carlyle and Cromwell.fn42
The letters and speeches format also reinforces Carlyle's contention that Cromwell's language, like James Carlyle's, had "a meaning in it" (2:53). Carlyle's insistence that Cromwell's every word had value led him to include every letter no matter how trivial, even to accept as genuine the forgeries of William Squire (see Ryals). The narrator of The French Revolution had to interpret dry-as-dust documents, to decide which provided clues to the meaning of the revolution and which were mere waste paper. The narrator of Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches needs only to put Cromwell's letters and speeches in order, [120/121] since Cromwell's meaningful words require no interpretation. Carlyle forsakes the role of historical interpreter and becomes a mere "Pious Editor," even subordinating his own words by having them printed in smaller type than that used for Cromwell's letters and speeches.fn43
Yet Carlyle seems to grow increasingly restless in the role of hero-worshipping editor, and we soon find him drawing our attention from Cromwell's words to his own. Carlyle's commentaries are meant to provide a narrative context that links together the sequence of letters; it is therefore necessarily subordinate to them. Through about one-sixth of the work he stays with this plan, but then he suddenly breaks in to request that the reader defer reading Cromwell's letters in order to read an "Extract from a work still in Manuscript" (1: 258). The work Carlyle quotes is, of course, his own abandoned history of the civil wars. The extract is immediately set apart from the preceding narrative by its vivid metaphor and lively syntax, its playfulness (e.g., a pun on "Divines" and "Dry-Vines"), and its representation of the voices of "London City" and "the Army." It functions as a metacommentary that focuses on Carlyle's own concerns rather than glossing Cromwell's texts. From this point forward, Carlyle's distinctive voice begins to emerge, and passages like this one appear with increasing frequency (e.g., 1:264-65, 2:226-27, 3:70-72, 83-84, 111, n. i).
Carlyle's increasing discomfort with the role of editor becomes most conspicuous in his handling of Cromwell's speeches. The first half of the work is fairly equally divided between Cromwell's letters, which are usually less than a page long, and Carlyle's linking narrative. The speeches, many of which run to thirty or forty pages, threaten to silence Carlyle for long stretches of time in the latter half of the book, but he finds a means to introduce himself even in the midst of them. In his introduction to the second speech, he advises us that in order to make the speeches more accessible to his modern audience he has "with reluctance, admitted from the latest of the Commentators a few annotations" (3:105). The latest of the Commentators is, once again, Carlyle. What is most striking about these "annotations" is that they do not appear as footnotes but as comments interpolated within the texts of the speeches. Although square brackets set them off from the text, the comments are emphatically italicized. Whereas the use of reduced-size type subordinated his commentary to the letters, this typographical convention makes every comment stand out on the page.
Since the comments appear in the body of the text, the reader can hardly ignore them; instead of making us pay greater attention to Cromwell, they keep drawing our attention to the narrator. The interpolations are in part a means to bring the speeches to life by creating the fiction of an audience listening to and observing Cromwell in the here and now. The most common are audience reactions, cries of "Hear!" "Yea!" 'Alas!" "So!" and "Hum-m-m!"; others function as stage directions, describing the gestures and emotions of the crowd and Cromwell himself-one, for example, depicts him "looking up, with a mournful toss of the head" (3:124; see 106-26). Yet the reader cannot but be aware that if Cromwell seems to come to life it is not through his own words-which remain dry and wooden-but through the words Carlyle has added to the text of his speeches.fn44 Only about a third of the interpolations are genuine glosses that might help the reader understand what Cromwell is saying, and even these often displace Cromwell's statements rather than simply explain them. These interpolations frequently interrupt Cromwell in mid-sentence, a practice hardly calculated to help us follow the course of his arguments (e.g., 3:113-14, 115-16, 119). Finally, Carlyle's admiration for Cromwell and his insistence that his speech is "meaningful" does not prevent him from losing patience at times with his hobbyhorses-" The justifying of the Spanish War is a great point with his Highness!"-or making fun ofhis more awkward locutions-"I am a man standing in the Place I am in [Clearly, your Highness]" (3: 2 77, 4:58; see 3: 118-19). Rather than encouraging readers to worship at the feet of the Puritan hero, such comments invite them to assume a position of bemused detachment, of the nineteenth century condescending to the seventeenth.
Carlyle has another difficulty in his efforts to make Cromwell's career a living epic. In The French Revolution, as in Past and Present, he had discovered the fundamental belief of the era by interpreting its everyday activities, but although his manuscripts represent him as seeking a symbolic structure for the history, the Letters and Speeches are almost totally devoid of symbolic interpretation. In part, Carlyle's difficulties arose because his thesis differed from that of The French Revolution. In the latter, symbols proliferated in proportion to the diversity of human activities, but in the history of the Puritans Carlyle sought symbols that manifested the unified divine will. The divine will was manifested in battle; yet, apart from Cromwell's assertion that [122/123] this was so, the history of the battles themselves contained nothing to distinguish them from the battles of any other war. Carlyle could find no symbolic episodes like the mutiny at Nancy or the storming of the Bastille.
The one episode that seemed to possess some symbolic resonance was the episode of jenny Geddes, and Carlyle attempted on several occasions to elaborate it into a central episode of his history. The episode revolved around the legend that the pious jenny Geddes had flung a stool at the dean of St. Giles when Archbishop Laud attempted to introduce the Anglican prayer book into the services of the Church of Scotland. Carlyle's manuscripts suggest that he wanted to portray this incident, which, according to the story, set off riots throughout Edinburgh, as the 'first stroke in an infinite bout" that "spread . . . over Edinburgh, over broad Scotland at large" and was symbolic of "latter strokes" like those which beheaded Charles I (CL, 11: 36, 13:74; HS, 10). As early as February 1839, when he first began his Cromwell studies, Carlyle had depicted Geddes as an epic "heroine," first the Iphigenia, then the Helen of the civil wars (CL, 11: 36; OCLS, 1: 97).fn45 But he soon found that no document contemporary with the Edinburgh riot mentioned Geddes, indeed, that the legend had not appeared until several decades after the event; its unique mythic potential derived from the fact that it really was myth, that there was little historical basis for it.fn46 In the end, Carlyle relegated it to a brief passage in the introduction to the Letters and Speeches (1: 96-97). He could not risk founding his epic on an event that might never have taken place; but neither could he discover any historical event that offered the same symbolic potential.
Carlyle's decision simply to edit the letters and speeches signaled his abandonment of the search for the symbolic; indeed, the letters and speeches format worked against the discovery of the symbolic. Whereas the n arrator- editors of Sartor Resartus, The French Revolution, and Past and Present feel free to subordinate chronology in order to arrange material symbolically, the strict chronological arrangement of the letters and speeches limits the pious Editor's ability to discover symbols or present the history of the civil wars in symbolic terms. Confining himself to the events of Cromwell's career as exhibited in the letters, he is forced to exclude potentially symbolic material. For example, in The French Revolution, Carlyle devotes an entire book, about fifty pages, to the trial and execution of Louis XVI, while the trial [121/122] and execution of Charles I in the Letters and Speeches merits only half a dozen pages. His manuscripts, especially Historical Sketches, are rich in the kind of anecdotal history in which he liked to read the signs of the times — Guy Fawkes's gunpowder plot, duelling, the burning of the playhouse in Drury Lane, the Book of Sports, and so on — but he finally excluded almost all this material because he could not find a way to relate it to the life of Cromwell. Whereas Carlyle's earlier works had built up complex vocabularies of imagery, trope, and allusion through which to convey his symbolic reading of events (for example, the clothing imagery and the fictional framework of Sartor Resartus; the imagery of the vortex and fire, the Homeric allusions, and the personifications of The French Revolution; the figure of the Irish widow, the contrast between the monastery of St. Edmund and the St. Ives workhouse, and the image of the "cash-nexus" in Past and Present), Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches simply lacks a coherent system of signs through which to present a symbolic reading of the civil wars.
Carlyle closely identified the Puritans and the Scottish rebels with his own ancestors and had long regarded them as spiritual "fathers" (e.g., i:80, 3:211, 4:208). His attempt to recuperate the idyll of Puritanism was yet another attempt to recover the idyll lost with the death of his father and to author a new myth for the nineteenth century. Like the Fifth Monarchists, he longed for an apocalyptic "Monarchy of Jesus Christ," and, like Smelfungus in the Historical Sketches, he hoped to "restore" the past in such a way that it would "never ... be lost more" (OCLS, 3:113; HS, 38). Having taken as his goal nothing less than the completion of the revolution Cromwell had begun, he could not but feel that he had failed.
Carlyle complained in the introduction to the Letters and Speeches that, while the English people had consummated the "epic" act of "Choosing their King," the history of English heroism remained unuttered, imprisoned in the "labyrinth ... that we call Human History" (4:37, 1:7). Yet, like his literary predecessors, Carlyle also failed to transform the "dead indescribable Cromwelliad" into a "living Iliad" 0: 5). In part, he failed because he could not bring himself to believe in a "dialect" as "obsolete" as Odin's and Dante's; Puritanism, he concluded, was not a "Complete Theory of this immense Universe; no, only a part thereof!" (2:53, 4: 184). In part, he failed because his researches demonstrated that Cromwell's theocratic idyll had never existed, that contrary to escaping time and history, Cromwell and the [124/125] Puritans had inaugurated the era of revolution. The irony of the Letters and Speeches is that it consists entirely of written documents, of Cromwell's words; like Teufelsdröckh, Samson, and Carlyle himself, Cromwell speaks endlessly but earns no rest other than the rest of death (3:107, 124). In the three years following the publication of Cromwell, Carlyle's remaining hope that he might create a Cromwell to bring order and justice to England faded away. The powerlessness of writing never seemed more apparent. When Cromwell coula not persuade the opposition to agree with him, he could use force to keep them in order; when Carlyle failed to persuade his contemporaries to accept a new Cromwell, the only force he could resort to was the force of angry words.
Last modified 26 October 2001