TC TO EDWARD FITZGERALD ; 9 January 1844; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18440109-TC-EF-01; CL 17: 233-235
TC TO EDWARD FITZGERALD
Chelsea, 9 jany, 1844—
Your Letter comes to me in a “good hour,”—makes for me what the French call a bonheur!1 I am sunk in inexpressible confusions; and any kind voice of encouragement is right welcome. Surely if ever I do get this Book on Cromwell finished, we will smoke a pipe of triumph over it, and rejoice to remember difficulties undergone! Alas, for the present, I cannot so much as get it begun. In my whole life, I have found myself in no such hideous situation: a ghastly labyrinth, created for me by the stupidities of England accumulating for two two2 hundred years;—vacant Dulness glaring on one everywhere, with torpedo [numbing] look, in this universal “dusk of the gods,”3 saying with a sneer: “Thou? Wilt thou save a Hero from the Abysses, where dark Death has quietly hidden him so long?”— It is frightful. But on the whole we must hold on; we must not spend our strength execrating, in complaining! It is really something like the sixth time, that I have burnt considerable masses of written attempts at commencing the unwriteable; and to this hour it remains properly uncommenced. And it must be commenced, and (if God please) finished;—I shall have but a poor time of it otherwise! Let me be silent; let my next Note to you say: I am launched; by the blessing of Heaven, I hope to sail, to arrive! Surely there was no such business as the writing a Life of Oliver Cromwell for the present race of Englishmen, in the present distracted darkness of the whole subject, ever before laid upon a human sinner?—
One of the things I have at length got to discern as doable is the gathering of all Oliver's Letters and Speeches, and stringing them together according to the order of time: a series of fixed rock-summits, in the infinite ocean of froth, confusion, lies and stupidity, which hitherto constitutes the “History” of Cromwell, as Dryasdust4 has printed it and read it. This I am at present doing;—tho' this is not what I have the real difficulty in doing. I have made considerable progess; Time has eaten up most of Oliver's utterances; but a fraction still remains: these I can and will see printed, set in some kind of order.
Directly on receiving your Note I shot off a missive to “A. Cromwell Russell” &c:5 no answer yet; you shall hear of it, if I ever get an answer: but I hardly expect one, or at any rate one that will be better than none. Various are the applications of a like sort that I have made; always with the one answer, Nothing available here; something once was, or was said to be, but &c &c.— In the British Museum I find the original of the Letter about Naseby; written from Harborough that very night of the battle:6 I tried hard to find some shiver in the hair-strokes, some symptom that the man had been bearding Death all day; but there is nothing of that sort there; a quite composed letter, the handwriting massive, steadfast, you would say almost firmer than usual.
I like that account of Lawrence's about the Portrait,7 and must see farther into it. Do you ever go to Lincolnshire? I wish you had some errand thitherward, to get me a right account of three places, Oliver's first scenes of real fight,—of setting life against life in that Cause of his. Grantham, somewhere near that; then Gainsborough, where George Cavendish was killed in the bog; thirdly Winsby Field some miles from Horncastle: there are the three.8 My stupid Topographies &c are silent, some of them worse. But I hope to know the real transactions yet; I must know them.— Did you ever hear of Sir Symonds d'Ewes of Stow Langtoft in Suffolk, a member of the Long Parliament, Historian, Antiquary and much else?9 There are ten volumes of written reports and Notes by him about the Long Parlt, which I accidentally discover, which Dryasdust has never once turned his dull eye upon! Ex uno disce omnes [From one learn all].10 A right Editor of d'Ewes might do an acceptable feat. Adieu dear Fitzgerald; Heaven love you.
Yours very truly, and sorrowfully,