Saturday, December 09, 2006

Warts and All

The title of this post is attributed to Oliver Cromwell, but Walpole quotes him as actually asking Lely to paint his portrait, "roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything." Lely was asking how Cromwell, the new Protector of England, wanted to be portrayed in what was to be his official portrait. It was an important moment. Cromwell could follow in the footsteps of his predecessors; Charles I, Elizabeth I , and Henry VIII (amongst others) and be portrayed in a way that both flattered him and emphasized his majesty as a form of propaganda. Instead, he wisely chose a different, new image that had even more propaganda value -- Cromwell as the "plan russet-coated captain."
Any Irish readers will by now, I am sure, be grinding their teeth. Cromwell is no hero in Ireland. His actions at Drogheda and Wexford would make him a war criminal today, but were not so unusual during the Wars of Religion of the 16th and 17th centuries.
The reasons Cromwell remains a hero to me are, first his overthrow of the English monarchy, and secondly his words to the Scottish Assembly, "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken." Those words were used by Joseph Bronowski during his TV series "The Ascent of Man" (Olin Library Q175 .B7918 1974) to make the point that utter certainty is a dangerous thing. To quote a reviewer on the Amazon site for the book, "JB walked fully clothed and shod into a pond at Auschwitz in acknowledgment of family and friends and fellow countrymen whose ashes were dumped there by fascists who laid claim to a handle on absolute certainty." I saw that scene on TV in the 1970's and remember it to this day.

So why this essay on 17th century English history? Sorry, I got carried away. The Olin Library just completed the LibQual survey and we have begun using that data in our planning process. On Friday I sent a message to the Rollins community announcing that we had posted our results -- warts and all -- on the website. I have been heartened by the number of responses I have got from students, faculty, and staff, complementing us on doing this and openly and honestly communicating not just our strengths, but also where we can improve.