And yet absolutism in itself is not to be defended; it is what enlightened nations are now striving to abolish. It is needed only under certain circumstances; if it were to be perpetuated in any nation it would be Satanic. It is endurable only because it may be destroyed when it has answered its end; and, like all human institutions, it will become corrupted. It was shamefully abused under Louis XIV. and Louis XV. But when corrupted and abused it has, like slavery, all the elements of certain decay and ruin. The abuse of power will lead to its own destruction, even as undue haste in the acquisition of riches tendeth to poverty.
Petitot’s Memoires sur le Regne de Louis XIII.; Secret History of the French Court, by Cousin; Le Clerc’s Vie de Richelieu; Henri Martin’s History of France; Memoires de Richelieu, by Michaud and Poujoulat; Life of Richelieu, by Capefigue, and E.E. Crowe, and G.P.R. James; Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia; Histoire du Ministere du Cardinal de Richelieu, by A. Jay; Michelet’s Life of Henry IV. and Richelieu; Biographie Universelle; Sir James Stephen’s Lectures on the History of France.
The most difficult character in history to treat critically, and the easiest to treat rhetorically, perhaps, is Oliver Cromwell; after two centuries and more he is still a puzzle: his name, like that of Napoleon, is a doubt. Some regard him with unmingled admiration; some detest him as a usurper; and many look upon him as a hypocrite. Nobody questions his ability; and his talents were so great that some bow down to him on that account, out of reverence for strength, like Carlyle. On the whole he is a popular idol, not for his strength, but for his cause, since he represents the progressive party in his day in behalf of liberty,—at least until his protectorate began. Then new issues arose; and while he appeared as a great patriot and enlightened ruler, he yet reigned as an absolute monarch, basing his power on a standing army.
But whatever may be said of Cromwell as statesman, general, or ruler, his career was remarkable and exceedingly interesting. His character, too, was unique and original; hence we are never weary of discussing him. In studying his character and career, we also have our minds directed to the great ideas of his tumultuous and agitated age, for he, like Napoleon, was the product of revolution. He was the offspring of mighty ideas,—he did not create them; original thinkers set them in motion, as Rousseau enunciated the ideas which led to the French Revolution. The great thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were divines, the men whom the Reformation produced. It was Luther preaching the right of private judgment, and Calvin pushing out the doctrine of the majesty of God to its remotest logical sequence, and Latimer appealing to every man’s personal responsibility to God, and Gustavus Adolphus fighting for religious liberty, and the Huguenots protesting against religious persecution, and Thomas Cromwell sweeping away the abominations of the Papacy, and the Geneva divines who settled in England during the reign of Elizabeth,—it was all these that produced Oliver Cromwell.