Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine — Volume 56, No. 346, August, 1844 online

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There are those persons now living who would give their own weight in
sovereigns, though drawing against thirteen to sixteen stone, that all
of this dreadful subject might be swallowed up by Lethe; that darkness
might settle for ever upon the insanities of Cabool; and the grave close
finally over the carnage of Tezeen. But it will not be. Blood will have
blood, they say. The madness which could sport in levity with a trust of
seventeen thousand lives, walks upon the wind towards heaven, coming
round by gusts innumerable of angry wailings in the air; voices from
nobody knows where are heard clamouring for vengeance; and the caves of
Jugdulloc, gorged with the "un-coffined slain," will not rest from the
litanies which day and night they pour forth for retribution until this
generation shall have passed away.

Are we to have justice or not? - not that justice which executes the
sentence, but which points the historical verdict, and distributes the
proportions of guilt. The government must now be convinced, by the
unceasing succession of books on this subject, which sleeps at
intervals, but continually wakens up again to new life, that it has not
died out, nor is likely to do so. And for _that_ there is good reason: a
sorrow which is past decays gradually, and hushes itself to sleep; not
so a sorrow which points too ominously to the future. The last book on
this horrible tragedy is that of Mr Lushington;[1] and in point of
ability the best; the best in composition; the best for nobility of
principle, for warning, for reproach. But, for all that, we do not agree
with him: we concede all his major propositions; we deny most of his
minors. As for the other and earlier discussions upon this theme,
whether by boots, by pamphlets, by journals, English and Indian, or by
Parliamentary speeches, they now form a library; and, considering the
vast remoteness of the local interest, they express sublimely the
paramount power of what is moral over the earthy and the physical. A
battle of Paniput is fought, which adds the carnage of Leipsic to that
of Borodino, and, numerically speaking, heaps Pelion upon Ossa; but who
cares? No principle is concerned: it is viewed as battle of wolves with
tiger-cats; and Europe heeds it not. But let a column of less than 5000,
from a nation moving by moral forces, and ploughing up for ever new
soils of moral promise, betray itself, by folly or by guilt, into the
meshes of a frightful calamity, and the earth listens for the details
from the tropics to the arctic circle. Not Moscow and Smolensko, through
all the wilderness of their afflictions, ever challenged the gaze of
Christendom so earnestly as the Coord Cabool. And why? The pomp, the
procession of the misery, lasted through six weeks in the Napoleon case,
through six days in the English case. Of the French host there had been
originally 450,000 fighting men; of the English, exactly that same
amount read as the numerator of a fraction whose denominator was 100.
Forty-five myriads had been the French; forty-five hundreds the English.
And yet so mighty is the power of any thing moral, because shadowy and
illimitable, so potent to magnify and unvulgarize any interest, that
more books have been written upon Cabool, and through a more enduring
tract of time, than upon Moscow. Great was the convulsion in either
case; but that caused by Cabool has proved the less transitory. The vast
_anabasis_ to Moscow had emanated from a people not conspicuously
careful of public morality. But that later _anabasis_, which ascended to
the shining pinnacles of Candahar, and which stained with blood of men
the untrodden snows of the Hindoo Koosh, was the work of a nation - no
matter whether more moral in a practical sense, upon that we do not here
dispute - but undeniably fermenting with the anxieties and jealousies of
moral aspirations beyond any other people whatever. Some persons have
ascribed to Blumenbach (heretofore the great Goettingen naturalist) an
opinion as to the English which we have good reason to think that he
never uttered - viz. that the people of this island are the most
voluptuous of nations, and that we bear it written in our national
countenance. But suppose him to have said this, and secondly, (which is
a trifle more important,) suppose it to be true, not the less we assert
the impassioned predominance of a moral interest in this nation. The
intensity of this principle is such, that it works with the fury and
agitation of an appetite. It urges us to the very brink of civil war.
Two centuries back - yes, exactly to a month, two centuries - we were all
at Marston Moor, cutting throats upon the largest scale. And why? under
the coercion of principles equally sublime on _both_ sides. Then it
_did_ urge us into war. Now it does not - because the resistance is
stronger, and by no means because the impulse is less. On a May morning
in 1844, a question arises in the senate as to factory labour. On one
side it shows an aspect critical for the interests of human nature in
its widest stratum - viz. amongst the children of toil. Immediately, as
at the sound of a signal-gun, five hundred of our fervent journals open
their batteries this way and that upon an inquest of truth. "All the
people quake like dew." The demoniacs of Palestine were not more shaken
of old by internal possessions, than the heart of England is swayed to
and fro under the action of this or similar problems. Epilepsy is not
more overmastering than is the tempest of moral strife in England. And a
new dawn is arising upon us in the prospect, that henceforth the
agitations of peace will be more impassioned for the coming generation
than the agitations of war for the last. But that sympathy, almost
morbid, which England feels with the condition of social man, other
nations echo by a reflex sympathy with England; not always by a friendly
sympathy. Like the [Greek: aerobatentes] and _funambuli_ of ancient
days, equally when keeping the difficult line of advance, or when losing
it, England is regarded with a searching gaze that might seem governed
by the fabulous fascination of the rattlesnake. Does she ascend on her
proper line of advance? There is heard the murmur of reluctant applause.
Does she trip? There arises the yell of triumph. Is she seen purchasing
the freedom of a negro nation? The glow of admiration suffuses the
countenance of Christendom. Is she descried entering on wars of
unprovoked aggression? All faces in Europe are illuminated with smiles
of prosperous malice. It is a painful preeminence which England
occupies - hard to keep, dangerous to forfeit. Hit, and a million of
hearts are tainted with jealousy; fail, and a million revel in
malignity. Therefore it was that Cabool and its disasters drew an
attention so disproportioned to their military importance. Cabool was
one chapter in a transaction which, truly or not, had come to be reputed
incompatible with those august principles of public justice professed
and worn amongst the phylacteries of Great Britain. Therefore also it
was that on this subject, as we have already said, a library of works
has been accumulated.

[1] _A Great Country's Little Wars_. By HENRY LUSHINGTON. London:
Parker, 1844.

Of these works we assert, fearlessly but not arrogantly, that all are
partially in error. They are in fact, one and all, controversial works;
often without the design of the writers, and not always perhaps with
their consciousness - but the fact is such. Not one of them but has a
purpose to serve for or against Lord Auckland, or Dost Mahommed, or the
East India Company, or the government at home and at Calcutta, which
replaced that of the Whigs. Some even go into such specialties of
partisanship as to manage the cause chiefly as a case depending against
the political agents - Mr Ross Bell, Mr Loveday, Captain Outram, or Sir
Alexander Burnes. Whilst others, which might seem a service of
desperation, hold their briefs as the apologists of that injured young
gentleman, Akbar Khan. All, in short, are controversial for a _personal_
interest; and, in that sense, to be controversial is to be partial. Now
we, who take our station in the centre, and deliver our shot all round
the horizon, by intervals damaging every order of men concerned as
parties to the Affghan affair, whether by action, by sanction, by
counsel, or by subsequent opinion, may claim to be indifferent censors.
We _have_ political attachments: we do not deny it; but our own party is
hardly touched by the sting of the case.

We therefore can be neutral, and we shall pursue our enquiry
thus: - _First_, What was the original motive for the Affghan expedition?
We insist upon it, that the motive generally assumed and reasoned upon
was absurd, in a double sense puerile, as arguing a danger not possible,
and (if it had been possible) not existing, and yet, after all, not open
to much condemnation from most of those who _did_ condemn it. They might
object to the particular mode of execution, but they were pledged to the
principle of a war in that direction.

_Secondly_, When the amended form was put forward, a rational form and
the true form of the motive for this expedition, in what respect was
that open to criticism? Far enough are we from going along with the
views of the Auckland cabinet at this juncture; but these two things we
are sure of - that those views were unsound, not by any vice which has
yet been exposed, and that the vice alleged argues gross ignorance of
every thing oriental. Lord Auckland might err, as heavily we believe him
to have done, in his estimate of Affghanistan and the Affghan condition:
he had untrue notions of what the Affghans needed, and what it was that
they could bear: but his critics, Indian and domestic, were not in error
by default merely of philosophic views as to the state of society in
Affghanistan; they erred by want of familiarity with the most prominent
usages of eastern economy. Lord Auckland was wrong, only as whole masses
of politicians are wrong in Europe; viz. by applying European principles
to communities under feelings and prejudices systematically different.
But his antagonists were wrong as to palpable facts.

_Thirdly_, If we pass from the motive to the execution of the motive,
from the purpose to the means of effecting it, we are compelled to say
that Lord Auckland's government adopted for its primary means the most
extravagant that could have been devised; viz. the making itself a party
to the financial torture of the land.

_Fourthly_, When local insurrection had arisen, whether directed (as
every body assumes) against the abuses of a system introduced by
ourselves, or (as _we_ assert) proper to the land, and hereditary to the
morbid condition of Affghan society - we shall expose the feeble and
inadequate solution yet offered by any military guide for the tragical
issue of these calamities. Kohistan, or particular cases, need not
detain us; but, coming at once _in medias res_ as to Cabool itself, we
shall undertake to show, that as yet we have no true or rational account
of the causes which led to the fatal result. What! four thousand five
hundred regular troops, officered by Englishmen - a number which, in the
last eighty years, had shown itself repeatedly able to beat armies of
sixty thousand men, armies having all the appurtenances and equipments
of regular warfare - was this strong column actually unable to fight its
way, with bayonet and field artillery, to a fortress distant only eighty
miles, through a tumultuary rabble never mustering twenty thousand
heads?[1] Times are altered with us if this was inevitable. But the
Affghans, you will say, are brave men, stout and stout-hearted, not
timid Phrygian Bengalees. True - but at Plassy, and again, forty years
after, at Assye, it was not merely Bengalees, or chiefly such, whom we
fought - they were Rohillas, Patans, Goorkhas, and Arabs; the three
first being of Affghan blood, quite as good as any Barukzye or Ghilzye,
and the last better. No, no - there is more to tell. The calamity
ascends to some elder source than the imbecility of General
Elphinstone, or the obstinacy of Brigadier Shelton. Others than the
direct accomplices in that disaster are included in its guilt; some of
the hitherto known only as the slain who have suffered by the
insurrection, and as the survivors who have denounced it. Amongst
_them_ lie some of those impeached by the circumstances. So far we
might add little to the satisfaction of the public; to see the rolls of
the guilty widening would but aggravate the sorrow of a calamity which
now it could do nothing to diminish. But oftentimes to know the persons
concerned in a great disaster, is a step to knowing something of its
causes. And this we will venture to say - that, in defiance of all
professional pedantry incident to military men and engineers, the
reader is likely to be of opinion that we, at a distance of 7000 miles,
have pointed out capital blunders, ensuring ruin and forming
temptations to conspiracy, which Lieutenant Eyre, a principal artillery
officer on the spot, has failed to notice; and if he failed to notice
them in his book _à fortiori_, he must have failed to notice them
officially, whilst yet it would have been in time. There were those
things done in Cabool by the "fantastic tricks" of men dressed in
authority, which, placed in their proper light, go far to explain all
the horrors that ensued. We know not whether they made "the angels
weep," or rather made the devils laugh, when hovering over Coord
Cabool: but this we know, that they are likely to make the hair stand
on end of all considerate men in this land of energetic foresight.

[1] "_Heads_," we say, because it is one amongst the grievous neglects
of the military writers, that they have made it impossible for us to
describe the Affghan soldiery under any better representative term, by
giving no circumstantial account of the arms or discipline prevailing
through the Affghan forces, the tenure of their service, &c. Many had
matchlocks; but many, we presume, had only swords; and artillery the
Affghans had none, but what they had been suffered to steal in Cabool.

_Fifthly_, It may be asked, What is the moral of this dreadful affair?
What inferences in the way of warning are to be drawn from it? This is a
topic untouched by all the writers on the Affghan war. But undoubtedly
the Cabool reverse was not more fitted to fix attention as a judgment
for the past than as a warning for the future; not more as being (or
being thought) the reaction from a public wrong, authorized by English
councils, than as a premonitory case, showing us what may be expected
under the recurrence of similar circumstances. Circumstances altogether
similar are not likely to recur in two centuries; but circumstances only
in part similar, a commander-in-chief incapacitated by illness, or a
second-in-command blind with infatuation, might easily recur in critical
or dreadful emergencies. Such circumstances _did_ happen in the Nepaul
campaigns; imbecility in more leaders than one, as abject as that at
Cabool. And though it could not lead to the same awful results where
there had not been the same elaborate _preparation_ of folly, and upon
ground so much nearer to the means of rectification, still it was then
sufficient to tarnish the lustre of our arms for the time, and, under
worse circumstances, would menace worse misfortunes. Neither is this
all; there are other infirmities in our eastern system than the vicious
selection of generals.

But all the topics proper to this fifth head will fall more naturally
under a paper expressly applying itself to India; and for the present we
shall confine ourselves to the previous four.

I. And _first_, then, as regards the original motive assigned for the
Affghan expedition. What profit in prospect, or what danger in
reversion, moved us to so costly an enterprise? We insist singly on its
cost, which usually proves a sufficient _sufflamen_ in these days to the
belligerent propensities of nations. Cicero mentions the advocate by
name who first suggested the question of _Cui bono_, as a means of
feeling backwards in a case of murder for the perpetrator. Who was it
that had been interested in the murder? But the same question must be
equally good as a means of feeling forwards to the probable wisdom of a
war. What was the nature of the benefit apprehended, and who was to reap
it? The answer to this very startling question, in the case of the
Affghan expedition, stood thus for a long time on the part of our own
unofficial press - that the object had been to forestall Russia, driving
with headlong malice _en route_ for the Indus, by surprising her
advanced guard in Kohistan. Certainly, if the surprise were all, there
might be something plausible in the idea. If the Russians should ever
reach Kohistan, we will answer for their being exceedingly surprised at
finding an English camp in that region for the purpose of entertaining
themselves. In reality no lunatic projector, not Cleombrotus leaping
into the sea for the sake of Plato's Elysium, not Erostratus committing
arson at Ephesus for posthumous fame, not a sick Mr Elwes ascending the
Himalaya, in order to use the rarity of the atmosphere as a ransom from
the expense of cupping in Calcutta, ever conceived so awful a folly. Oh,
playful Sir John Mandeville, sagacious Don Quixote, modest and ingenious
Baron Munchausen! - ye were sober men, almost dull men, by comparison
with the _tête exaltée_ from some upper element of fire, or limbo of the
moon, who conceived this sublime idea of leaping forward by a thousand
miles, to lay salt on the tail of a possible or a conceivable enemy. The
enemy - the tail - the salt - these were all _in nubibus_; the only thing
certain was the leap, and the thousand miles. And then, having achieved
this first stage on the road, why not go on to St Petersburg, and take
the Czar by the beard? The enormity of this extravagance showed from
what mint it came. Ever since we have harboured the Czar's rebels in
England, there has been a craze possessing our newspaper press, that
Russia was, or might be, brewing evil against India. We can all see the
absurdity of such reveries when exemplified by our quicksilver neighbour
France, bouncing for ever in her dreams about insults meditated from the
perfidious England; but we are blind to the image which this French
mirror reflects of our own attitude towards Russia. One hundred and
fifty years ago, the _incubus_ which lay heavy on the slumbers of
England was the Pope; of whom Swift remarked, that constantly his
holiness was seen _incog_. under one disguise or other, drinking at
gin-shops in Wapping, and clearly proved to be spying out the nakedness
of the land. In our days the Pope has vanished to the rear of the
English phantasmagoria, and now lies amongst the [Greek: neknôn amenêna
kasêna]. But not, therefore, is England without her pet nightmare; and
that nightmare is now the Czar, who doubtless had his own reasons lately
for examining the ground about Windsor and Ascot Heath - fine ground for
the Preobasinsky dragoons. How often in this journal have we been
obliged to draw upon these blockheads, and disperse them sword in hand!
How, gentlemen, (we have said to them in substance,) if you must play
the fool as alarmists, can you find no likelier towers for menacing
Calcutta with thunder storms than those of arctic St Petersburg; between
which cities lies an interspace equal to both tropics? We remember, as
applicable to this case, a striking taunt reported by Dampier, that when
one bucanier, on the west coast of Peru, was sailing away from the
oppression of another to some East Indian port, with a weak crew in a
crazy vessel, the ruffian from whom he fled told him at parting, that,
by the time he saw green fields again, the boys in his vessel would be
greyheaded. And we suspect that the Russian drummer-boys, by the time
they reach the Khyber pass, will all have become field-marshals, seeing
that, after three years' marching, they have not yet reached Khiva. But
were the distance, the snows, the famine, and thirst nothing, is the
bloodshed nothing? Russia is a colossus, and Bokhara, Khiva, Kokan, &c.,
are dwarfs. But the finger of a colossus may be no match for the horny
heels of a dwarf. The Emperor Tiberius could fracture a boy's skull with
a _talitrum_, (or fillip of his middle finger;) but it is not every
middle finger that can do that; and a close kick from a khan of
Toorkistan might leave an uglier scar than a fillip at arm's length from
the Czar. Assuredly his imperial majesty would be stopped at many
toll-bars before he would stable his horses in an Affghan caravansery;
and would have more sorts of boxes than diamond snuff-boxes to give and
take in approaching the Hindoo Koosh. But suppose him there, and
actually sitting astride of the old Koosh in boots and spurs, what next?
In our opinion, the best thing he could do, in case, he desired any
sleep for the next three months, would be to stay where he was; for
should he come down stairs into Affghanistan, we English can by this
time give some account of the shocking roads and bad entertainment for
man and horse, all the way to the Indus. Little to choose between the
Khyber Pass or the Bolan: more kicks perhaps on the first, but worse,
dinners on the other. And then, finally, about the costs, the reckoning,
the "little account" which will be presented for payment on the banks of
the Indus. _Us_ it cost forty thousand camels, which for years could not
be replaced at any price, and nine millions sterling, for a _part_ of
our time. But the Czar, who might wish to plant a still larger army on
the Indus, say thirty thousand, and would have six times our length of
march, could not expect to suffer by less than three times the money,
and by the total generation of camels from Mecca to "Samarcand, by
Oxus - Temir's throne."

Could any man rationally believe of a governor-general, left at large
by his council, that, under the terrors of a phantom invasion such as
this, visionary as a dream, and distant as heaven is distant, he could
seriously have organized an armament which, merely by its money costs,
would be likely to shake the foundations of the empire which he
administered? Yet if Lord Auckland _had_ moved upon the impulse of a
panic so delirious, under what colour of reason could he have been
impeached by the English press, of which the prevailing section first
excited, and to this day nurses intermittingly, that miserable Russian
superstition?[1] The Polish craze, adopted by the press of England and
France, and strengthened by the conviction that in Russia lay the
great antagonist balance to the disorganizing instincts of Western
Europe, had made the Czar an object of hatred to the Liberal leaders.
But to improve this hatred into a _national_ sentiment in England, it
was requisite to connect him by some relation with English
"interests." Hence the idea of describing him as a vulture, (or as
Sinbad's roc,) constantly hovering over our sheep-folds in India. Gog
and Magog are not more shadowy and remote as objects for Indian
armies, artillery, and rockets, than that great prince who looks out
upon Europe and Asia through the loopholes of polar mists. Anti-Gog
will probably synchronize with the two Gogs. And Lord Auckland would
have earned the title of Anti-Gog, had he gone out to tilt on an
Affghan process of the Himalaya, with - what? With a reed shaken by the

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Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine — Volume 56, No. 346, August, 1844 → online text (page 1 of 22)