The Collected Letters, Volume 26


TC TO J. W. PARKER; 12 January 1851; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18510112-TC-JWP-01; CL 26: 14-16


Chelsea, January 12 1851


I have just run over your MS., diligently glancing into it to the extent of two hours;—and find in it a good deal of accurate and diligent, if not very recondite reading, upon the History of Oliver and of England in that period; the results of which are set forth with an intelligence which I cannot call high or new, but which may be called lucid, innocuous, and capable of informing the simpler sort of readers (provided they do not break down into yawning over it) upon various points about the History of England in those days. The conclusions your author arrives at are those in which I for one may very well agree; and certainly, in my opinion, the more persons are convinced upon them and informed about them, the better.1

But I must say farther, the true title of it would be ‘The Seventeenth Century: a Biography,’ or ‘English Puritanism, a do.’;—for the great bulk of the work turns not on Oliver at all, but on matters common to him and all his contemporaries whatsoever, the nature of English Puritanism, Puritan Conservatism; History of James and his Theologies and Politics, do. of Charles and his do. do.,—Trial of Strafford, Irish Rebellion,2 &c. &c.,—Oliver gliding out and in like the moon in a wet night, and often for long sections not seeming to appear at all. Excluding the Appendix, Oliver (I think), in any legitimate sense of Biography, may occupy about a fourth of the Book; including the Appendix perhaps about a fifth: the rest is History and Discussion of the kinds alluded to above,—very harmless, meritoriously exact too (so far as I see), and containing many particulars by no means known to everybody; but not set forth with any great felicity, nor, I should think, quite appropriate in a Book styling itself ‘Biography.’ In Oliver's particular History I did not notice any particular of a new kind,—nor any view or opinion that was not already my own (minus the water here added to it), or everybody's in a sense.

If the author were to rewrite his MS, compress it greatly (steaming out at least one-third, which may be accounted aqueous), and call it ‘English Puritanism,’ or some such name, it might really be a book capable of instructing various people, and be read, not uncreditably to him, along with the Isaac-Taylor and Liberal-Dissenter kind of speculations,3 which I believe are much sought after among certain large classes of our reading public at present. But I would strongly recommend rewriting and compression! Changing of the name, too, for several reasons; though that is not so important.

What pity this diligent young writer were not attached as subaltern to some man of real intellect and insight who could turn his powers to their true use, instead of leaving them unguided to seek their own use in this wide sphere! Such, however, is the course at this epoch.—What kind of ‘History’ he may yet write, we will not predict; but the present, I venture to say, is by no means the best he could already do.

The MS. lies here, sealed, for your man.

Believe me, / Yours always truly,