A great man lays upon posterity the duty of understanding him. The task is not easy even with those well-defined, four-square personalities, who belong to a recognizable type, whose purpose was single and whose career was a product of obvious causes; for we still have our interpretation to recover an atmosphere which is not our own. It is harder when the man in question falls under no accepted category, and in each feature demands a new analysis. It is hardest of all with one who sets a classification at defiance, and seems to unite in himself every contrary, who dominates his generation like some portent of nature, a mystery to his contemporaries and an enigma to his successors. In such a case his interpreter must search not only among the arcane of his age, its hidden forces and imponderable elements, but among the profundities of the human spirit.
Oliver Cromwell has long passed beyond the mists of calumny. He is no longer Hyde’s “brave, bad man”; still less is he the hypocrite, the vulgar usurper, the bandit of genius, of Hume and Hallam. By common consent he stands in the first rank of greatness, but there is little agreement on the specific character of that greatness.
Text: John Buchan, Oliver Cromwell, 1934.
Top: Oliver Cromwell’s death mask, Warwick Castle.
Bottom: 70013 Oliver Cromwell steam locomotive, British Railways, built 1951, passing through Welham Green pulling the "Great Northern" from Cleethorpes to Kings Cross on 28 February 2009.