« PreviousContinue »
All past Centuries have rotted down, and gone confusedly dumb and quiet, even as that Seventeenth is now threatening to do. Histories are as perfect as the Historian is wise, and is gifted with an eye and a soul! For the leafy blossoming Present Time springs from the whole Past, remembered and unrememberable, so confusedly as we say:—and truly the Art of History, the grand difference between a Dryasdust and a sacred Poet, is very much even this: To distinguish well what does still reach to the surface, and is alive and frondent for us; and what reaches no longer to the surface, but moulders safe underground, never to send forth leaves or fruit for mankind any more: of the former we shall rejoice to hear; to hear of the latter will be an affliction to us; of the latter only Pedants and Dullards, and disastrous ma/efactors to the world, will find good to speak. By wise memory and by wise oblivion: it lies all there! Without oblivion, there is no remembrance possible. When both oblivion and memory are wise, when the general soul of man is clear, melodious, true, there may come a modern Iliad as memorial of the Past: when both are foolish, and the general soul is overclouded with confusions, with unveracities and discords, there is a ' Rushworthian chaos.' Let Dryasdust be blamed, beaten with stripes if you will; but let it be with pity, with blame to Fate chiefly. Alas, when sacred Priests are arguing about 'black and white surplices;' and sacred Poets have long .professedly deserted Truth, and gone a wool-gathering after ' Ideals' and such like, what can you expect of poor secular Pedants? The labyrinth of History must grow ever darker, more intricate and dismal; vacant cargoes of ' Ideals' will arrive yearly, to be cast into the oven; and noble Heroisms of Fact, given up to Dryasdust, will be buried in a very disastrous manner!—
But the thing we had to say and repeat was this, That Puritanism is not of the Nineteenth Century, but of the Seventeenth; that the grand unintelligibility for us lies there. The Fast-day Sermons of St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, in spite of printers, are all grown dumb! In long rows of little dumpy quartos, gathered from the bookstalls, they indeed stand here bodily before us: by human volition they can be read, but not by any human memory remembered. We forget them as soon as read; they have become a weariness to the soul of man. They are dead and gone, they and what they shadowed; the human soul, got ' into other latitudes, cannot now give harbor to them. Alas, and did not the honorable Houses of Parliament listen to them with rapt earnestness, as to an indisputable message from Heaven itself? Learned and painful Dr. Owen, learned and painful Dr. Burgess; Stephen Marshall, Mr. Spurstow, Adoniram Byfield, Hugh Peters, Philip Nye: the Printer has done for them what he could, and Mr. Speaker gave them the thanks of the House ;—and no most astonishing ReviewArticle of our day can have half such ' brilliancy,' such potency, half such virtue for producing belief as these their poor little dumpy quartos once had. And behold, they are become inarticulate men; spectral; and instead of speaking, do not screech and gibber! All Puritanism has grown inarticulate; its fervent preachings, prayings, pamphleteerings are sunk into one indiscriminate moaning hum, mournful as the voice of subterranean winds. So much falls silent: human Speech, unless by rare chance it touch on the ' Eternal Melodies,' and harmonize with them; human Action, Interest, if divorced from the Eternal Melodies, sinks all silent. The fashion of this world passeth away.
The Age of the Puritans is not extinct only and gone away from us, but it is as if fallen beyond the capabilities of Memory herself; it is grown unintelligible, what we may call incredible. Its earnest Purport awakens now no resonance in our frivolous hearts. We understand not even in imagination, one of a thousand of us, what it ever could have meant. It seems delirious, delusive; the sound of it has become tedious as a tale of past stupidities. Not the body of heroic Puritanism only, which was bound to die, but the soul of it also, which was and should have been, and yet shall be immortal, has for the present passed away. As Harrison said of his Banner and Lion of the Tribe of Judah: "Who shall rouse him up V—
'For indisputably,' exclaims the above-cited Author in his vehement way, 'this too was a Heroism; and the soul of it remains part of the eternal soul of things! Here, of our own land »nd lineage in praptical English shape, wprp TT^rors on the Earth once more. Who knew in every fibre, and with heroic daring laid to heart, That an Almighty Justice does verily rule this world; that it is good to fight on God's side, and bad to fight on the Devil's side! The essence of all Heroisms and Veracities that have been, or that will be.—Perhaps it was among the nobler and noblest Human Heroisms, this Puritanism of ours: but English Dryasdust could not discern it for a Heroism at all;—as the Heaven's lightning, born of its black tempest, and destructive to pestilential Mudgiants, is mere^ horror and terror to the Pedant species everywhere; which, like the owl in any sudden brightness, has to shut its eyes,—or hastily procure_smoked-spectacles on an improved principle. Hea\en's brightness would be intolerable otherwise. Only your eagle dares look direct into the fireradiance; only ycur Schiller climbs aloft "to discover whence the lightning is coming." "Godlike men love lightning," says one. Our old Norse fathers called it a God; the sunny blueeyed Thor, with his all-conquering thunder-hammer,—who again, in calmer season, is beneficent Summer-heat. Godless men love it not; shriek murder when they see it; shutting their eyes, and hastily procuring smoked-spectacles. O Dryasdust,
thou art great and thrice great!'
'But alas,' exclaims he elsewhere, getting- his eye on the real nodus of the matter, 'what is it, all this Rushworthian inarticulate rubbish-continent, in its ghastly dim twilight, with its haggard wrecks and pale shadows; what is it, but the common Kingdom of Death? This is what we call Death, this mouldering dumb wilderness of things once alive. Behold here the final evanescence of Formed human things; they had form, but they are changing into sheer formlessness ;—ancient human speech itself has sunk into unintelligible maundering. This is the collapse,—the etiolation of human features into mouldy blank; dissolution; progress towards utter silence and disappearance; dis.
astrous ever-deepening Dusk of Gods and Men !- Why has the
living ventured thither, down from the cheerful light, across the Lethe-swamps and tartarean Phlegethons, onwards to these baleful halls of Dis and the three-headed Dog 1 Some Destiny drives .iim. It is his sins, I suppose :—perhaps it is his love, strong as that of Orpheus for the lost Eurydice, and likely to have no better issue!'—
Well, it would seem the resuscitation of a Heroism from the Past Time is no easy enterprise. Our impatient friend seems really getting sad! We can well believe him, there needs pious love in any ' Orpheus' that will risk descending to the Gloomy Halls ;—descending, it may be, and fronting Cerberus and Dis, to no purpose! For it oftenest proves so; nay, as the Mythologists would teach us, always. Here is another Mythus. Balder the white Sungod, say our Norse Skalds, Balder, beautiful as the summer-dawn, loved of gods and men, was dead. His Brother Hermoder, urged by his Mother's tears and the tears of the Universe, went forth to seek him. He rode through gloomy winding valleys, of a dismal leaden color, full of howling winds and subterranean torrents ; nine days; ever deeper, down towards Hela's Deathrealm: at Lonesome Bridge, which, with its gold gate, spans the River of Moaning, he found the Portress, an ancient woman, called Modgudr, 'the Vexer of Minds,' keeping watch as usual: Modgudr answered him, "Yes, Balder passed this way; but he is not here; he is down yonder,—far, still far to the North, within Hela's Gates yonder." Hermoder rode on, still dauntless, on his horse, named 'Swiftness' or 'Mane of Gold;' reached Hela's Gates; leapt sheer over them, mounted as he was; saw Balder, the" very Balder, with his eyes:—but could not bring him back! The Nomas were inexorable; Balder was never to come back. Balder beckoned him mournfully a still adieu; Nanna, Balder's Wife, sent ' a thimble' to her mother as a memorial:
Balder never could return! Is not this an emblem? Old
Portress Modgudr, I take it, is Dryasdust in Norse petticoat and hood; a most unlovely beldame, the 'Vexer of Minds!'
We will here take final leave of our impatient friend, occupied in this almost desperate enterprise of his; we will wish him, which is very easy to do, more patience, and better success than he seems to hope. And now to our own small enterprise, and solid despatch of business in plain prose!
OF THE BIOGRAPHIES OF OLIVER.
Ours is a very small enterprise, but seemingly a useful one; preparatory perhaps to greater and more useful, on this same matter: The collecting of the Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, and presenting them in natural sequence, with the still possible elucidation, to ingenuous readers. This is a thing that can be done; and after some reflection, it has appeared worth doing. No great thing: one other dull Book added to the thousand, dull every one of them, which have been issued on this subject! But situated as we are, new Dulness is unhappily inevitable; readers do not reascend out of deep confusions without some trouble as they climb.
These authentic utterances of the man Oliver himself—I have gathered them from far and near; fished them up from the foul Lethean quagmires where they lay buried; I have washed, or endeavored to wash them clean from foreign stupidities (such a job of buck-washing as I do not long to repeat); and the world shall now see them in their own shape. Working for long years in those unspeakable Historic Provinces, of which the reader has already had account, it becomes more and more apparent to one, That this man Oliver Cromwell was, as the popular fancy represents him, the soul of the Puritan Revolt, without whom i^had never been a revolt transcendently memorable, and an Epoch in the World's History; that in fact he, more than is common in such cases, does deserve to give his name to the Period in question, and have the Puritan Revolt considered as a Cromwel&ad, which issue is already very visible for it. And then farther, altogether contrary to the popular fancy, it becomes apparent that this Oliver was not a man of falsehoods, but a man of truths; whose words do carry a meaning with them, and above all others of that time, are worth considering. His words,—and still more