Its High Phrases Acted Like the Music of Armies

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


Young Cromwell in early boyhood received this Calvinist or Puritan spirit, in part no doubt from his parents, in part from the group of townsmen in Huntingdon with whom they were connected; but especially from the man whose natural place it was to give him his first training — Doctor Beard. This Beard was at the head of the Grammar School at Huntingdon; he was a Puritan Churchman, not without learning and with a reputation which extended far. He had written books upon his side of the controversy, notably one upon the common theme that the Pope was anti-Christ; he was a man engrossed in such things.

Beard’s influence upon Cromwell was strong and continuous, and Oliver’s interest in him long survived boyhood; it was apparent years after in middle life when Beard was an elderly man, and continued till his death. But there was another influence of great moment — of how great moment we know not by direct testimony but by its effect — and that was the appearance, as Cromwell was reaching puberty when the most vivid impressions are received, of what has ever since been known as the “English Bible.”

The Authorised Version was but the last of some few vernacular renderings upon the Protestant side; the rhythms of its most famous rhetoric came from a lifetime earlier; its diction was already somewhat archaic — and the more impressive — so that it established itself during the course of a very few years as a verbal inspiration and literal authority throughout all that section of Englishmen for whom it was designed. It was destined at long last — by the end of the eighteenth century — to give its colour to the whole nation. It was as the Mohammedans say of the Koran, “The Book.” Of all the cases in which the power of The Word has shown itself in the formation of societies this is perhaps the chief. Its high phrases acted like the music of armies; men drank of it and were set on fire.

Now that Book was first at work, I say, raising its earliest ferment in Oliver, just during those years when great verse or great rhythmic rhetoric most strongly seizes and stamps itself upon a mind. The new English Bible would have reached the household at Huntingdon when he was between thirteen and fourteen; he had it in his ears week by week and most probably daily, year after year, all through his early manhood. The influence was so violent that it produced in him (as in thousands of his contemporaries and scores of his social equals) that special vocabulary which seems to us grotesque but which soon became to them native. The strange names of half-savage Orientals, the metaphors drawn from the climate of Syria or the life of the desert, the characters of little highland tribes in Syria — three thousand miles away from England in distance, three thousand years in time — became in that group so thoroughly adopted that to this day men think of them as English. As for Oliver, the thing possessed him and spoke through his lips his whole life long.

Though a character is formed by thirty, though Cromwell was all this, the man on fire with the new Scripture and the man reading it in an atmosphere of Election and Conversion, yet the effect continued to develop in him. It was perhaps at its height shortly before he appears fully upon the stage, some four years before the outbreak of the Civil War, when he was nearly forty.

— Hilaire Belloc

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
This entry was posted in Books Publishing and Writing, History, Philosophy and Religion and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Its High Phrases Acted Like the Music of Armies

  1. Epaminondas says:

    I think you can boil this down to “ideas have consequences…especially if those ideas are gussied up in fancy words.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s