July-December 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 34


TC TO EDWARD CHAPMAN ; 14 December 1858; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18581214-TC-EC-01; CL 34: 247-248


Chelsea, 14 decr, 1858—

Sir,—The “Head of Oliver Cromwell” which they exhibit out at Beckenham1 to the curious is a mere brutality; indicating again, in a painful way, the very great darkness that lies in mankind.

The real Head of Oliver Cromwell, as an Eye-witness incidentally informs us (see Seward's2 Letters, I think; certainly one of Seward's Books), stood upon its spike, on the gable of Westminster Hall, for at least 28 years;—nor is there the least reason to doubt that it continued there till it dropt away peacemeal, and was washed gradually into the Thames and the Atlantic Ocean.3

However, about 70 years ago (17[88 I] think my Informant said, who had seen it), there appeared in London a polished Scull, calling itself “The Head of Cromwell,”4—admittance 1 shilling; value of the Piece (if it could find a purchaser, whh it couldn't) £50. By this Scull there was precisely a Legend given whh our banker friend5 got of the present article out at Beckenham from the Hon. Wilkinson “Member for Bromley cum Buckingham”6 (an opulent Apothecary out there, I have heard): many paid their shillings for a time, but nobody wd buy, and the Scull withdrew itself again.

Here, however, it reappears with flesh and hair on it; and the Hon. Wilkinson has purchased, a good many years ago; and exhibits, once a quarter (I was told) to a select dinner party,7 who are friends of human progress, all of them, and interested in Cromwell, this satisfactory acquisition of his.—Weigall,8 who had cut an excellt Likeness of Cromwell (to my knowledge), had the curiosity to go to Beckenham; found no feature of Cromwell's (except the cut of the hair), and a face belonging to God (and probably the Devil) knows whom.

Please do not answer. I have been already bothered with that Beckm monster; and am terribly busy otherwise.—Yours truly T. Carlyle

n.b. No printing of this; no talk abt it (to persons not really concerned): I cannot afford to spend one other instant on the abominable Platitude in question! T.C.