Random Quote #97 topic: voltaire-dict, Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire, 1694-1778



Cromwell is painted as a man who was an impostor all his life. I have
difficulty in believing it. I think that first of all he was an
enthusiast, and that later he made even his fanaticism serve his
greatness. A novice who is fervent at the age of twenty often becomes a
skilful rogue at forty. In the great game of human life one begins by
being a dupe, and one finishes by being a rogue. A statesman takes as
almoner a monk steeped in the pettinesses of his monastery, devout,
credulous, clumsy, quite new to the world: the monk learns, forms
himself, intrigues, and supplants his master.

Cromwell did not know at first whether he would be an ecclesiastic or a
soldier. He was both. In 1622 he served a campaign in the army of
Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, a great man, brother of two great
men; and when he returned to England, he went into the service of Bishop
Williams, and was his grace's theologian, while his grace passed as his
wife's lover. His principles were those of the Puritans; thus he had to
hate a bishop with all his heart, and not have a liking for kings. He
was driven from Bishop Williams' house because he was a Puritan; and
there is the origin of his fortune. The English Parliament declared
itself against the throne and against the episcopacy; some of his
friends in this parliament procured the nomination of a village for him.
Only at this time did he begin to exist, and he was more than forty
before he had ever made himself talked of. In vain was he conversant
with Holy Writ, in vain did he argue about the rights of priests and
deacons, and preach a few poor sermons and libels, he was ignored. I
have seen one of his sermons which is very insipid, and which bears
sufficient resemblance to the predications of the quakers; assuredly
there is to be found there no trace of that persuasive eloquence with
which later he carried the parliaments away. The reason is that in fact
he was much more suited to public affairs than to the Church. It was
above all in his tone and in his air that his eloquence consisted; a
gesture of that hand that had won so many battles and killed so many
royalists, was more persuasive than the periods of Cicero. It must be
avowed that it was his incomparable bravery which made him known, and
which led him by degrees to the pinnacle of greatness.

He began by launching out as a volunteer who wished to make his fortune,
in the town of Hull, besieged by the king. There he did many fine and
happy actions, for which he received a gratification of about six
thousand francs from the parliament. This present made by the parliament
to an adventurer made it clear that the rebel party must prevail. The
king was not in a position to give to his general officers what the
parliament gave to volunteers. With money and fanaticism one is bound in
the long run to be master of everything. Cromwell was made colonel. Then
his great talents for war developed to the point that when the
parliament created the Count of Manchester general of its armies, it
made Cromwell lieutenant-general, without his having passed through the
other ranks. Never did man appear more worthy of commanding; never were
more activity and prudence, more boldness and more resource seen than in
Cromwell. He is wounded at the battle of York; and while the first
dressing is being put on his wound, he learns that his general,
Manchester, is retiring, and that the battle is lost. He hastens to
Manchester's side; he finds him fleeing with some officers; he takes him
by the arm, and says to him with an air of confidence and grandeur: "You
are mistaken, my lord; it is not on this side that the enemy is." He
leads him back near the battlefield, rallies during the night more than
twelve thousand men, speaks to them in the name of God, quotes Moses,
Gideon and Joshua, at daybreak recommences the battle against the
victorious royal army, and defeats it completely. Such a man had to
perish or be master. Nearly all the officers of his army were
enthusiasts who carried the New Testament at their saddle-bow: in the
army as in the parliament men spoke only of making Babylon fall, of
establishing the religion in Jerusalem, of shattering the colossus.
Among so many madmen Cromwell ceased to be mad, and thought that it was
better to govern them than to be governed by them. The habit of
preaching as though he were inspired remained to him. Picture a fakir
who has put an iron belt round his waist as a penitence, and who then
takes off his belt to beat the other fakirs' ears: there you have
Cromwell. He becomes as intriguing as he was intrepid; he associates
himself with all the colonels of the army, and thus forms among the
troops a republic which forces the commander-in-chief to resign. Another
commander-in-chief is nominated, he disgusts him. He governs the army,
and by it he governs the parliament; he puts this parliament in the
necessity of making him commander-in-chief at last. All this was a great
deal; but what is essential is that he wins all the battles he engages
in in England, Scotland and Ireland; and he wins them, not in watching
the fighting and in taking care of himself, but always by charging the
enemy, rallying his troops, rushing everywhere, often wounded, killing
many royalist officers with his own hand, like a desperate and
infuriated grenadier.

Amid this frightful war Cromwell made love; he went, his Bible under his
arm, to sleep with the wife of his major-general, Lambert. She loved the
Count of Holland, who was serving in the king's army. Cromwell took him
prisoner in a battle, and enjoyed the pleasure of having his rival's
head cut off. His maxim was to shed the blood of every important enemy,
either on the field of battle, or by the executioner's hand. He always
increased his power, by always daring to abuse it; the profundity of his
plans took away nothing from his ferocious impetuosity. He goes into the
House of Parliament and, taking his watch, which he threw on the ground
and which he shattered to atoms: "I will break you," he said, "like this
watch." He returns there some time after, drives all the members out one
after the other, making them defile before him. Each is obliged, as he
passes, to make him a deep bow: one of them passes with his hat on his
head; Cromwell takes his hat from him and throws it on the ground:
"Learn to respect me," he says.

When he had outraged all kings by having his own legitimate king's head
cut off, and when he started to reign himself, he sent his portrait to a
crowned head; it was to Christine, Queen of Sweden. Marvell, a famous
English poet, who wrote very good Latin verse, accompanied this portrait
with six verses where he made Cromwell himself speak. Cromwell corrected
the last two as follows:

_At tibi submittit frontem reverentior umbra,
Non sunt hi vultus regibus usque truces._

This queen was the first to recognize him as soon as he was protector of
the three kingdoms. Almost all the sovereigns of Europe sent their
ambassadors _to their brother_ Cromwell, to this bishop's servant, who
had just caused a sovereign, their own kin, to perish at the hand of the
executioner. They vied with each in soliciting his alliance. Cardinal
Mazarin, to please him, drove out of France the two sons of Charles I.,
the two grandsons of Henry IV., the two first cousins of Louis XIV.
France conquered Dunkirk for him, and sent him the keys. After his
death, Louis XIV. and all his court wore mourning, excepting
Mademoiselle, who had the courage to come to the company in a coloured
habit, and alone maintained the honour of her race.

Never was a king more absolute than he was. He said that he had
preferred governing under the name of _protector_ rather than under that
of _king_, because the English knew the point to which a King of
England's prerogative extended, and did not know to what point a
protector's might go. That was to understand men, who are governed by
opinion, and whose opinion depends on a name. He had conceived a
profound scorn for the religion which had served to his fortune. There
is a certain anecdote preserved in the house of St. John, which proves
sufficiently the little account which Cromwell made of the instrument
which had produced such great effects in his hands. He was drinking one
day with Ireton, Fleetwood and St. John, great-grandfather of the
celebrated Lord Bolingbroke; they wished to uncork a bottle, and the
corkscrew fell under the table; they all looked for it and did not find
it. Meanwhile a deputation from the Presbyterian churches was waiting in
the antechamber, and an usher came to announce them. "Tell them," said
Cromwell, "that I have retired, _and that I am seeking the Lord_." It
was the expression which the fanatics used when they were saying their
prayers. When he had thus dismissed the band of ministers, he said these
very words to his confidants: "Those puppies think that we are seeking
the Lord, and we are only seeking the corkscrew."

There is barely an example in Europe of any man who, come from so low,
raised himself so high. But what was absolutely essential to him with
all his talents? Fortune. He had this fortune; but was he happy? He
lived poorly and anxiously until he was forty-three; from that time he
bathed himself in blood, passed his life in turmoil, and died before his
time at the age of fifty-seven. Let us compare this life with that of
Newton, who lived eighty-four years, always tranquil, always honoured,
always the light of all thinking beings, seeing increase each day his
renown, his reputation, his fortune, without ever having either care or
remorse; and let us judge which of the two had the better part.


Oliver Cromwell was regarded with admiration by the Puritans and
independents of England; he is still their hero; but Richard Cromwell,
his son, is my man.

The first is a fanatic who would be hissed to-day in the House of
Commons, if he uttered there one single one of the unintelligible
absurdities which he gave out with so much confidence before other
fanatics who listened to him open-mouthed and wide-eyed, in the name of
the Lord. If he said that one must seek the Lord, and fight the Lord's
battles; if he introduced the Jewish jargon into the parliament of
England, to the eternal shame of the human intelligence, he would be
nearer to being led to Bedlam than to being chosen to command armies.

He was brave without a doubt; so are wolves; there are even monkeys as
fierce as tigers. From being a fanatic he became an adroit politician,
that is to say that from a wolf he became fox, climbed by imposture from
the first steps where the infuriated enthusiasm of the times had placed
him, right to the pinnacle of greatness; and the impostor walked on the
heads of the prostrated fanatics. He reigned, but he lived in the
horrors of anxiety. He knew neither serene days nor tranquil nights. The
consolations of friendship and society never approached him; he died
before his time, more worthy, without a doubt, of execution than the
king whom he had conducted from a window of his own palace to the

Richard Cromwell, on the contrary, born with a gentle, wise spirit,
refused to keep his father's crown at the price of the blood of two or
three rebels whom he could sacrifice to his ambition. He preferred to be
reduced to private life rather than be an omnipotent assassin. He left
the protectorate without regret to live as a citizen. Free and tranquil
in the country, he enjoyed health there, and there did he possess his
soul in peace for eighty-six years, loved by his neighbours, to whom he
was arbiter and father.

Readers, give your verdict. If you had to choose between the destiny of
the father and that of the son, which would you take?


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