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The histo.y of the Irish War is, and for the present must continue, very dark and indecipherable to us. Ireland, ever since the Irish Rebellion broke out and changed itself into an Irish Massacre, in the end of 1641, has been a scene of distracted controversies, plunderings, excommunications, treacheries, conflagrations, of universal misery and blood and bluster, such as the world before or since has never seen. The History of it does not form itself into a picture; but remains only as a huge blot, an indiscriminate blackness; which the human memory cannot willingly charge itself with! There are Parties on the back of Parties; at war with the world and with each other. There are Catholics of the Pale, demanding freedom of religion; under my Lord This and my Lord That. There are Old-Irish Catholics, under Pope's Nuncios, under Abbas O'Teague of the excommunications, and Owen Roe O'Neil;—demanding not religious freedom only, but what we now call 'Repeal of the Union;' and unable to agree with the Catholics of the English Pale. Then there are Ormond Royalists, of the Episcopalian and, mixed creeds, strong for King without Covenant: Ulster and other Presbyterians, strong for King and Covenant: lastly, Michael Jones and the Commonwealth of England, who want neither King nor Covenant. All these plunging and tumbling, in huge discord, for the last eight years, have made of Ireland and its affairs the black unutterable blot we speak of.
At the date of Oliver's arrival, all Irish Parties are united in a combination very unusual with them; very dangerous for the incipient Commonwealth. Ormond, who had returned thither with new Commission, in hopes to co-operate with Scotch Hamilton during the Second Civil War, arrived too late for that object; but has succeeded in rallying Ireland into one mass of declared opposition to the Powers that now rule. Catholics of the Pale, and Old-Irish Catholics of the Massacre, will at length act together: Protestant English Royalism, which has fled hither for shelter; nay, now at last Royalist Presbyterianism, and the very Scots in Ulster,—have all joined with Ormond ' against the Regicides.' They are eagerly inviting the young Charles Second to come thither, and be crowned and made victorious. He as yet hesitates between that and Scotland ;—may probably give Scotland the preference. But in all Ireland, when Cromwell sets foot on it, there remain only two Towns, Dublin and Derry, that hold for the Commonwealth; Dublin lately besieged, Derry still besieged. A very formidable combination. All Ireland kneaded together, by favorable accident and the incredible patience of Ormond, stands up in one great combination, resolute to resist the Commonwealth. Combination great in bulk; but made of iron and clay ;—in meaning not so great. Oliver has taken survey and measure of it; Oliver descends on it like the Hammer of Thor; smites it, as at one fell stroke, into dust and ruin, never to reunite against him more.
One could pity this poor Irish -People; their case is pitiable enough! The claim they started with, in 1641, was for religious freedom. Their claim, we can now all see, was just: essentially just, though full of intricacy; difficult to render clear and concessible ;—nay, at that date of the World's History, it was hardly recognizable to any Protestant man, for just; and these frightful massacrings and sanguinary blusterings have rendered it, for the present, entirely unrecognizable. A just, though very intricate claim: but entered upon, and prosecuted, by such methods as were never yet available for asserting any claim in this world! Treachery and massacre: what could come of it? Eight years of cruel fighting, of desperate violence and misery, have left matters worse a thousandfold than they were at first. No want of daring, or of patriotism so-called; but a great want of other things! Numerous large masses of armed men have been on foot; full of fiery vehemence and audacity, but without worth as Armies; savage hordes rather; full of hatred and mutual hatred, of disobedience, falsity and noise. Undrilled, unpaid,—driving herds of plundered cattle before them for subsistence; rushing down from hillsides, from ambuscadoes, passes in the mountains; taking shelter always ' in bogs whither the cavalry cannot follow them.' Unveracious, violent, disobedient men. False in speech; —alas, false in thought, first of all; whc have never let the Fact tell its own harsh story to them; who have said always to the harsh Fact, " Thou art not that way, thou art this way!" The Fact, of course, asserts that it is that way; the Irish Projects end in perpetual discomfiture; have to take shelter in bogs whither cavalry cannot follow! There has been no scene seen under the sun like Ireland for these eight years. Murder, pillage, conflagration, excommunication; wide-flowing blood, and bluster high as Heaven and St. Peter;—as if wolves or rabid dogs were in fight here; as if demons from the'Pit had mounted up to deface this fair green piece of God's Creation with their talkings and workings! It is, and shall remain, very dark to us. Conceive Ireland wasted, torn in pieces; black controversy as of demons and rabid wolves rushing over the face of it so long; incurable, and very dim to us: till here at last, as in the torrent of Heaven's lightning descending liquid on it, we have clear and terrible view of its affairs for a time !—
Oliver's proceedings here have been the theme of much loud criticism, and sibylline execration; into which it is not our plan to enter at present. We shall give these Fifteen Letters of his in a mass, and without any commentary whatever. To those who think that a land overrun with Sanguinary Quacks can be healed by sprinkling it with rose-water, these. Letters must be very horrible. Terrible Surgery this: but is it Surgery and Judgment, or atrocious Murder merely? That is a question which should be asked; and answered. Oliver Cromwell did believe in God's Judgments; and did not believe in the rose-water plan of Surgery;—which, in fact, is this Editor's case too! Every idle lie and piece of empty bluster this Editor hears, he too, like Oliver, has to shudder at it; has to think: "Thou, idle bluster, not true, thou also art shutting men's minds against the God's Fact; thou wilt issue as a cleft crown to some poor man some day; thou also wilt have to take shelter in bogs whither cavalry cannot follow!"—But in Oliver's time, as I say, there was still belief in the Judgments of God; in Oliver's time, there was yet no distracted jargon of 'abolishing Capital Puishments,' of JeanJacques Philanthropy, and universal rose-water in this world still so full of sin. Men's notion was, not for abolishing punishments, but for making laws just: God the Maker's Laws, they considered, had not yet got the Punishment abolished from them! Men had a notion, that the difference between Good and Evil was still considerable ;—equal to the difference between Heaven and Hell. It was a true notion. Which all men yet saw, and felt in all fibres of their existence, to be true. Only in late decadent generations, fast hastening towards radical change or final perdition, can such indiscriminate mashing-up of Good and Evil into one universal patent-treacle, and most unmedical electuary, of Rousseau Sentimentalism, universal Pardon and Benevolence, with dinner and drink and one cheer more, take effect in our Earth. Electuary very poisonous, as sweet as it is, and very nauseous; of which Oliver, happier than we, had not yet heard the slightest intimation even in dreams.
The reader of these Letters, who has swept all that very ominous twaddle out of his head and heart, and still looks with a recognizing eye on the ways of the Supreme Powers with this world, will find here, in the rude Practical state, a Phenomenon which he will account noteworthy. An armed Soldier, solemnly conscious to himself that he is the Soldier of God the Just,—a consciousness which it well beseems all soldiers and all men to have always;—armed Soldier, terrible as Death, relentless as Doom; doing God's Judgments on the Enemies of God! It is a Phenomenon not of joyful nature; no, but of awful, to be looked at with pious terror and awe. Not a Phenomenon which you are called to recognize with bright smiles, and fall in love with at sight:—thou, art thou worthy to love such a thing; worthy to do other than hate it, and shriek over it? Darest thou wed the Heaven's lightning, then; and say to it, Godlike One? Is thy own life beautiful and terrible to thee; steeped in the eternal depths, in the eternal splendors? Thou also, art thou in thy sphere the minister of God's Justice; feeling that thou art hero to do it, and to see it done, at thy soul's peril? Thou wilt then judge Oliver with increasing clearness; otherwise with increasing darkness, misjudge him.
In fact, Oliver's dialect is rude and obsolete; the phrases of Oliver, to him solemn on the perilous battlefield as voices of God, have become to us most mournful when spouted as frothy cant from Exeter Hall. The reader has, all along, to make steady allowance for that. And on the whole, clear recognition will be difficult for him. To a poor slumberous Canting Age, mumbling to itself everywhere, Peace, Peace, where there is no peace,— such a Phenomenon as Oliver, in Ireland or elsewhere, is not the most recognizable in all its meanings. But it waits there for recognition; and can wait an Age or two. The Memory of Oliver Cromwell, as I count, has a good many centuries in it yet; and Ages of very varied complexion to apply to, before all end. My reader, in this passage and others, shall make of it what he can.
But certainly, at lowest, here is a set of Military Despatches of the most unexampled nature! Most rough, unkempt; shaggy as the Numidian lion. A style rugged as crags; coarse, drossy: yet with a meaning in it, an energy, a depth; pouring on like a firetorrent; perennial fire of it visible athwart all drosses and defacements: not uninteresting to see! This man has come into distracted Ireland with a God's Truth in the heart of him, though an unexpected one; the first such man they have seen for a great while indeed. He carries Acts of Parliament, Laws of Earth and Heaven, in one hand; drawn sword in the other. He addresses the bewildered Irish populations, the black ravening coil of sanguinary blustering individuals at Tredah and elsewhere: "Sanguinary blustering individuals, whose word is grown worthless as the barking of dogs; whose very thought is false, representing no fact but the contrary of fact,—behold, I am come to speak and to do the truth among you. Here are Acts of Parliament, methods of regulation and veracity, emblems the nearest we poor Puritans could make them of God's Law-Book, to which it is ar.d shall be our perpetual effort to make them correspond nearer and nearer. Obey them, help us to perfect them, be peaceable and true under them, it shall be well with you. Refuse to obey them, I will not let you continue living: As articulate-speaking veracious orderly men, not as a bluster