The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

I. Carlyle

§ 12. Oliver Cromwell

Amid all these incursions into the politics of the moment, however, he still felt on surer ground as a historian; the lesson he had teach, he felt, could be more effectually set forth from the platform of history, than by descending into the dusty and noisy arena of political controversy. His wish to serve the present by reviving the past is indicated by the masterly portrait he put together from the letters and utterances of Oliver Cromwell. The work had been long in preparation; indeed, none of Carlyle’s writings, not even his Frederick the Great was heralded by so many groans and despairs as this; in the case of none did he find it so difficult to discover the form best suited to the matter. At first, he had some idea of writing a history of the civil wars, or a history of the commonwealth; but the ultimate result was very different from that originally contemplated; in fact, he arrived at that result unawares. The publication of the letters and speeches was to have been a mere by-product, but, this done, he saw that there was nothing more left for him to do. The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (1845) has been described by Froude as “the most important contribution to English history which has been made in the nineteenth century.” This opinion may be debatable; but it might, at least, be said that the task of rehabilitating the protector, of destroying false legends which had gathered round him, was peculiarly made for Carlyle’s hand. Cromwell lives again here in all his rugged strength; and lives precisely because his was one of those natures into which Carlyle could, so to speak, project something of his own. Again, Carlyle is the artist here: not the artist in form; nor the Protean artist of many parts, as in The French Revolution or Frederick the Great, where the stage is crowded with varied figures; but the artist who has concentrated all his creative power on one great figure.