It is an open fact that little of Cromwell´s early life is known about and hardly anything is down on paper. Cromwell´s political activity spans the years 1629 to 1658, From 1629-1644 historical material is very scarce, which is why Stainer begins his collected works in the year 1644,
Stainer correctly warns his readers and our readers it must be said "of how much must be missing", Despite the knowledge that Cromwell did take part in constitutional debates that preceded the outbreak of the Civil War next to nothing survives. Given this problem, Stainer felt it was legitimate to add what he calls " substance " to a large number of speeches. Which means to fill in the blanks of Cromwell´s life with the words of other people.My feelings on this matter are that the words of others should be at the back of a book with an explanation as to who said them and how accurate they are.
Stainer justified adding them because in his words they "give greater continuity to the book, they enable us to form a more general estimate of Cromwell's speech-making, and to realise the poverty of our historical records". Whether we have the actual texts of these so called speeches is the new collection of historians working with John Morrill to find out. After all, a collection of speeches should be an accurate historical account and not a just a literary exercise.
Take for instance Stainer´s use of Bulstrode Whitlockes writings The Lord General's discourse with Lord Whitelocke, urging him to accept the Swedish Embassy, Sept. 13, 1653.
Whitdocke. I was to attend your Excellency but missed of you.
Cromwell. I knew not of it ; you are always welcome to me. I hope you have considered the proposal I made to you, and are willing to serve the Commonwealth.
Whitlocke. I have fully considered it ; and with humble thanks acknowledge the honour intended me, and am most willing to serve your Excellency and the Commonwealth ; but in this particular, I humbly beg your excuse. I have endeavoured to satisfy my own judgement and my nearest relations, but can do neither,nor gain a consent; and I should be very unworthy and ungrateful to go against it.
It would appear that this conversation was recorded by Whitlocke. Stainer should have taken more care in using this record. Whitlocke was hardly an actual figure and was very partisan when it comes to Cromwell. Stainer should have warned his audience as to the reliability of such a subjective piece of writing.
Other than the above-mentioned criticism Strainer's collected speeches he seems to have held a relatively disciplined and principled editorial approach to the text of Cromwell´s speeches and writings. He has only altered the text when no proper sense can possibly be made, or "where the sentences are so confused as to make restoration impossible". The punctuation is mostly Stainer´s. I am unaware if Stainer had help on this volume perhaps Professor Morrill´s team will tell us. Stainer has corrected the grammar but not being an expert on 17th century or that matter 21st-century grammar someone with a knowledge of both will need to comment on Stainer´s accuracy.
One major problem confronting the OUP [Oxford University Press] Team and John Morrill, in particular, is how they approach the Putney Debates. Stainer whom it would seem had substantial access to the Clarke Papers only choose to relay only a small part of the debates and therefore managed to reduce the dramatic scenes at Putney and Saffron Walden to little more than a Cromwell led debating society. My feelings as regards the OUP¨will be that the most important elements of the Putney debates must be produced in full regardless of whether Cromwell was speaking or not. After all the debates at Putney involved the question of profound importance not only to people of the 17th century but resonate even today.Discussions over private property, social inequality and the right to democracy are still contemporary issues.
Morrill´s OUP team will have to to make important decisions on whether the texts used by previous editions of collected works are accurate and were they written at the time or much afterwards. Stainer explains the problem he had and no doubt the Oxford team will have the same problems "it is quite astonishing to find so much diversity when one of the texts appears to be fairly complete and grammatical. The 'only explanation that can be suggested is, that these versions were not taken down at the time of the speech, but are founded on original reports sufficiently difficult to decipher to permit of such variations". Morrill has already warned that while they aim to achieve the highest academic standard in their work grey areas as regards the voracity of certain of Cromwell´s speech will always exist.
Stainer makes the point well on Cromwell´speech on May 6th, 1647.' he says that this is "beyond doubt, translation, the true original of which is now lost to us ; consequently we have no means of judging whether the translation is accurate or the text complete. We can only form the same opinion of Speeches 4-8, for the Worcester College MS. N. 12 (formerly MS. Ixvii), from which they are copied, is carefully written, and is in fact a collection, very similar to Clarke MS. 41, from which Speech 3 is taken. Frequent ' blanks ' in the sentences, and in some cases on whole pages, show that the translator's task was no easy one, and yet it is important to observe that the result is a text very similar to that in several of our other MSSAyscough, 6125, 'blanks for 2 lynes,' means that the writer was unable to translate the original before him. That he did copy is evident, as the MS. is a collection, though at present we have no other authority for the full text of this speech".
Stainer also asks whether we can prove that these speeches were initially taken in shorthand or not. Given the fact that well over 100 years have passed since Stainer made his collected speeches we can safely say that the Oxford team has a far better knowledge of not only type of shorthand used but our understanding of the type of printers used at the time will significantly increase our understanding and accuracy of these speeches
Stainer encountered other problems which were of a more general character.It is no doubt that the Oxford team will have to tidy up numerous speeches of Cromwell. Stainer believes that the significant repetition of sentences throughout these speeches seems "to show that a system of relays of writers may have been resorted to". What should be taken into consideration was that Cromwell was not a slow speaker and spoke for long periods so it should be borne in mind that this gives his recorders ample time for inaccurate shorthand. Also due to the length of some speeches if these were written down sometime after the speech then the possibilities for inaccuracies and outright distortions are extremely possible.
Stainer believes that "some such system may have been used whereby writers picked each other up by agreement. The task of assembling the ' notes ' would then be comparatively easy if everything went well ; but it must be noted that if the writers were not in full agreement or got confused, the task of assembling their notes would be a very difficult one". If the second writer began before his time long sentences would overlap, and if these were slightly different both might be introduced into the text. If he did not begin in time, sentences would be lost; and in addition, the repetition-sentence being absent, it would become easy to displace whole paragraphs. Much would then depend on memory, and further delay would be caused by the necessity of translating the notes, if taken in shorthand, and writing out a correct version. As to the shorthand system employed, it may have been either Mr. Shelton's or Mr. Biche's ; both are good, though somewhat clumsy, and both require extreme accuracy. Finally, we must not forget the possibility that the rooms in which his Highness spoke were inconveniently crowded, and very hot, so that it was not altogether easy to write.Thus in Speech 17 p. 87) we read: 'and therefore seeing you sit here somewhat uneasy by reason of the scantiness of the room and the heat of the weather, I shall contract myself with respect to that;' and again in Speech 34 (p. 211), Cromwell refers to the audience ' as certainly not being able long to bear that condition and heat that you are in.' While in the case of some speeches it would seem as though no arrangements at all had been made to report his Highness, and that the versions are made up from hearsay".
One strange characteristic of Stainer was to refer Cromwell as his "Highness". I am not sure whether he is sarcastic or that he believed that Cromwell was all but king in the name seems out of place in a scholarly edition.
Stainer is probably correct when he says "on the whole, the general conclusion must be that the original reports of these speeches are missing, that many circumstances doubtless conspired to make them difficult to decipher, and that there is no very great reason to suppose that our translations or copies of them are necessarily accurate". Hopefully, the OUP team can develop Stainer´s work and take it to a much higher level and do justice to Cromwell.
1 One word of warning as to the download version of The Collected Works of Oliver Cromwell ed C L Stainer is that it is covered in grammatical errors and therefore the reader would be better off with a hardback book version.
2 C L Stainer used the transcripts of Clarke Paper especially on Putney Debates
3 From Wikipedia Memorials of the English affairs from the beginning of the reign of Charles I …, published 1682 and reprinted. According to the author of Whitelocke's biography in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition "[it is] a work which has obtained greater authority than it deserves, being largely a compilation from various sources, composed after the events and abounding in errors".