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Marston, or, The soldier and statesman (Volume 3) online

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now crowded with bold figures, epauleted and em-
broidered, laughing and talking with the easy air of
men who felt themselves masters, and who evidently
regarded every thing round them as the furnishing
of a camp.

The land had now undergone its third stage of
that great spell, by which nations are urged and
roused at the will of a few. — The crosier was the


first wand of the magician, then came the sceptre ;
we were now imder the spell of the swjord. I was
delighted at the change, from the horrid form of
popular domination, to the showy supremacy of
soldiership. It still had its evils. But the guillotine
had disappeared. Savage hearts and sanguinary
hands no longer made the laws, and executed
them. Instead of the groans and execrations, the
cries of rage and clamours of despair, which once
echoed through all the streets, I now heard only
popular songs and dances, and saw all the genuine
evidences of that rejoicing, with which the multitude
had thrown off the most deadly of all tyrannies —
its own.

The foreigner shapes every thing into the pic-
turesque, and all the picturesque of France was now
military. Every regiment which passed through
Paris on its way from the frontier, was reviewed, in
front of the palace, by the First Consul ; and those
reviews formed the finest of all military spectacles,
for each had a character and a history of its own.

The regiment which had stormed the bridge of
Lodi ; the regiment which had headed the assault on
the tetedu-pont at Mantua; the regiment which had
led the march at the passage of the St. Bernard ; the
regiment which had formed the advance of UessaLx
at Marengo — all had their separate distinctions, and
were received with glowing speeches and appropriate
honours by the chief of the state. The popular
vanity was flattered by a perpetual pageant, and that
pageant wholly different from the tinsel displays of


the monarchy : — no representation of legends, trivial
in their origin, and ridiculous in their memory ; but
the revival of transactions, in which every man of
France felt almost a personal interest, which were
the true principles of the new system, and whose
living actors were seen passing, hour by hour, before
the national eye. All was vivid reality ; where all
had been false glitter, in the days of the Bourbons,
and all suUenness and fear, in the days of the De-
mocracy. The reality might still be rough and
stern, but it was substantial, and not without its
share of the superb ; it had the sharpness and
weight, and it had also the shining, of the sabre.
But this was not all ; nothing could be more subtly
consecutive than the whole progress of the head of
the government. In a superstitious age, it might
have been almost believed, that some wizard had
stood by his cradle, and sung his destiny ; or that,
like the greatest creation of the greatest of all drama-
tists, he had been met in some mountain pass, or on
some lonely heath, by the weird sisters predicting
his charmed supremacy.

At this period he was palpably training the
Republic to the sight of a dictatorship. The re-
turn of the troops through Paris had already ac-
customed the populace to the sight of military

The movement of vast masses of men by a word,
the simplicity of the great military machine, its direct
obedience to the master-hand, and its tremendous
strength ; all were a continual lesson to the popular


mind. I looked on the progress of this lesson with
infinite interest ; for, in its first displays, I. thought
that I was about to see a new government — Re-
publicanism in its most majestic aspect, giving a new
development of the art of ruling man, and exhibiting
a shape of domination loftier and more energetic
than the world had ever yet seen. Still, I was
aware of the national weakness. Nor was I with-
out a strong suspicion of the hazard of human
advance, when entrusted to the caprice of any being
in the form of man, and, above all, of one who had
won his way to power by arms. Yet, I was inclined
to conceive, that society had here reached a point of
division ; a ridge, from which the streams of power
naturally took different directions ; that the struggles
of the democracy were but like the bursting of those
monsoons which mark the distinction of seasons in
the East ; or the ruggedness of those regions of
rock and precipice, of roaring torrent and sunless
valley, through which the Alpine traveller must toil,
before he can bask in the luxuriance of the Italian
plain. Attached as I was, in the highest degree, to
the principle of monarchy, and regarding it as the
safest anchorage of the state, still, how was I to
know, that moral nature as well as physical, might
not have her reserves of power ; that the science of
government itself might not have its undetected
secrets, as well as the science of the globe ; that the
quiverings and convulsions of society at this moment,
obviously alike beyond calculation and control, might
not be only evidences of the same vast agencies ;


counterparts, in heights beyond the human eye,
guide the swellings of the ocean.

Those were the days of speculation, and I indulged
in them, like the rest of the world. Every man
stood, as the islander of the South Sea may stand on
his shore, contemplating the conflict of fire and
water, while the furnaces of the centre are forcing
up new lands in clouds of vapour and gusts of
whirlwind. All was strange, undefined, and start-
ling. One thing alone seemed certain ; that the
past regime was gone, never to return ; that a great
barrier had suddenly been dropped between the two
sovereignties ; that the living generation stood on
the dividing pinnacle between the languid vices of
the extinguished system and the daring, perhaps
guilty, energies of the system to come. Behind me
lay the region of the past, the long level of wasted
national faculties, emasculating superstitions, the
graceful feebleness of a sensual nobility, and the
supei'b follies of a haughty and yet helpless throne.
Before me rose a realm of boundless extent, but
requiring frames of vigour, and feelings undismayed
by difficulty ; — a horizon of hills and clouds, where
the gale blew fresh and the tempest rolled ; where
novel difficulties must be met at every step, but still
where, if man trod at all, he must ascend at every
step, where every clearing of the horizon must give
him a more comprehensive prospect, and where
every struggle with the rudeness of the soil, or the
roughness of the elements, must enhance the vigour
of the nerve that encountered them.


Those were dreams ; with all my sense of its fickle-
ness, I had not made due allowance for the nature
of the foreign mind. I was yet to learn its ready
temptation by every trivialty of the hour ; its demand
of extravagant excitement to rouse it into action, and
its utter apathy where its passions were not bribed.
I had imagined a national sovereignty, righteous,
calm, and resolute, such as might have been trained
by the precepts of a Milton and a Locke ; I found
only an Italian despotism, trained by the romance of
Rousseau, and the scepticism of Voltaire.

Every day in the capital now had its celebration,
and all exhibited the taste and talent of the First
Consul ; but one characteristic fete at length woke
me to the true design of this extraordinary man — the
inauguration of the Legion of Honour. It was the
first step to the throne, and a step of incomparable
daring and dexterity ; it was the virtual restoration
of an aristocracy, in the presence of a people, who
had raved with the rage of frenzy against all titles,
had torn down the coats-of-arms from the gates of
the noblesse, and shattered even the marbles of their
sepulchres. Republicanism had been already "pushed
from its stool," but this was the chain which was to
keep it fixed to the ground.

The ceremonial was held in the Hotel des Inva-
lides ; and all the civil pomp of the consulate was
combined with all the military display. The giving
of the crosses of honour called forth in succession
the names, of all those soldiers whose exploits had
rung through Europe, in the campaigns of the Alps


and the Rhine. Nothing could be more in the spirit
of a fine historic picture, or in the semblance of a
fine antique drama. There stood the first men of the
French councils and armies ; surrounded by the mo-
numents of their ancestors in the national glory, the
statues of the Condes and Turennes, whose memory
formed so large a portion of the popular pride, and
whose achievements, so solid a record in the history
of French triumph. To those high sources of senti-
ment, were added stately decoration and religious
solemnity ; and in the chorus of rich voices, the
sounds of martial harmony, the acclamations of the
countless multitude within and without, and the
thunder of cannon ; was completed the most magni-
ficent, but the most ominous, of all ceremonials.

It was not difficult to see, that this day was the
consecration of France to absolute power, and of all
her faculties to conquest. Like the Roman herald,
she had put on, in the temple, the robe of defiance
to all nations. She was to be, from this day of de-
votement, the nation of war. It was less visible,
that upon the field of Marengo perished the Demo-
cracy; than that in this temple was sacrificed the
Republic. The throne was still only in vision ; but
its outline was clear, and that outline was colossal.

In my intercourse with the men of the new regime,
I had associated chiefly with the military. Their
language was frank and free, and their knowledge
was more direct and extensive on the topics, which
I most desired to comprehend, the state of their
foreign conquests. One of those, a colonel of


dragoons, who had served with Moreau, and whose
partiahties, at least, did not lean to the rival hero ;
came hurriedly to me, at an early hour one morning,
to " take his leave." — " But why, and where ? " " He
was ordered to join his regiment immediately, in
march for the coast of the Channel." "To invade
us ?" I asked laughingly. " Not exactly yet, per-
haps; but it may come to that in good time. — I
grieve to tell you," added my gallant friend, with
more of gravity than I thought he could possibly
have thrown into his good-humoured features, " that
we are to have war. The matter is perfectly deter-
mined in the Tuileries ; and at the levee to-day there
will probably be a scene. — In the mean time, take
my information as certain ; and prepare for your
return to England, with the shortest possible delay."
He took his departure.

I attended the levee on that memorable day, and
saw the scene. The Place du Carrousel was un-
usually crowded with troops, which the First Consul
was passing in review. The whole population seemed
to have conjectured the event of the day ; for I had
never seen them in such numbers, nor with such an
evident look of general anxiety. The Tuileries was
filled with officers of state, with leading military
men, and members of the Senate and Tribunat ; the
whole body of the foreign ambassadors were present ;
and yet the entire assemblage was kept waiting, until
the First Consul had inspected even the firelocks of
his guard, and the shoes in their knapsacks. The
diplomatists, as they saw from the casements of


the palace this tardy operation going on, exchanged
glances with each other at its contemptuous trifling.
Some of the militaires exhibited the impatience of
men accustomed to prompt measures ; the civilians
smiled and shrugged their shoulders ; but all felt
that there was a purpose in the delay.

At length, the drums beat the flourish, for the
close of the review ; the First Consul galloped up to
the porch of the palace, flung himself from his
charger, sprang up the staircase, and without regard
to etiquette, hurried into the salle, followed by a
cloud of aides-de-camp and chamberlains. The
Circle of Presentations was formed, and he walked
hastily round it, saying a few rapid words to each. I
observed, for the first time, an aide-de-camp moving
on the outside of the circle, step for step, and with
his eye steadily marking the gesture of each indivi-
dual to whom the First Consul spoke in his circuit.
This was a new precaution, and indicative of the
time. Till then he had run all risks, and might have
been the victim of any daring hand. But now,
whether from an affectation of hazard, or from some
of those stories of conspiracy, which were the trade of
the police, he was thus on his guard. The very
countenance of the First Consul was as character-
istic as his career. It exhibited the most unusual
contrast of severity and softness ; nothing could be
sterner than the gathering of his brow, nothing
more flattering than his smile. On this occasion I
saw them both in perfection. To the general diplo-
matic circle his lip wore the smile. But, when he


reached the spot where the British ambassador
stood, we had the storm at once. With his darkest
frown, and with every featui-e in agitation, he sud-
denly burst out into a tirade against England — re-
proaching her with contempt of treaties ; with an
absolute desire for war ; with a perpetual passion for
embroiling Europe ; with forming armaments in the
midst of peace; with challenging France to an en-
counter which must provoke European hostilities ;
with the arrogant ambition of ruling the globe !

The English ambassador listened in silence, but
with the air of a high-spirited man, Avho would
concede nothing to menace ; and with the coun-
tenance of an intelligent one, who could have
easily answered declamation by argument. But, for
this answer there was no time. The First Consul,
having delivered his diatribe, suddenly sprang round,
darted through the crowd, and was lost to the view.
That scene was decisive. War was inevitable. I
took my friend's advice, ordered post-horses, and
within the twenty-four hours, I saw with infinite de-
light the cliffs of Dover shining in the dawn.

I am not writing a history. I am merely throwing
together events separated by great chasms, in the
course of a life. My life was all incident; some-
times connected with public transactions of the
first magnitude, sometimes wholly personal; and
thus I hasten on to the close of a pubHc career
which has ended ; and of an existence diversified by
cloud and sunshine, but on the whole happy.

The war began ; it was unavoidable. The objects



of our great adversary have been since stripped of
all disguise. His system had been to lull England
by peace, until he had amassed a force which might
crush her at the outbreak of a war. But his passion
overcame his policy. There are higher impulses
acting on the world than human ambition ; the
great machine is not altogether guided by man.
England had the cause of nations in her charge ;
her principles were truth, honour, and justice. She
had retained the reverence of her forefathers for the
Sanctuary ; and the same guidance which in the be-
ginning had taught her wisdom, ultimately crowned
her with victory. It was my fortune to live through
a period of the most overwhelming vicissitudes of
nations, and of the great disturber himself, who had
caused those vicissitudes. — I saw Napoleon at the
head of 500,000 men on the Niemen ; I saw him re-
duced to 50,000 on the plains of Champagne ; I saw
him reduced to a brigade at Fontainebleau ; I saw
him a burlesque of empire at Elba ; and I saw him an
exile on board a British ship, departing from Europe
to obscurity and his grave.

Those things may well reconcile inferior talents to
their obscurity. But they should also teach nations,
that the love of conquest is national ruin ; and that
there is a power which avenges the innocent blood.
No country on earth requires that high moral more
than France ; and no country on earth has more
bitterly suffered for its perversion. Napoleon was
embodied France ; the concentrated spirit of her
wild ambition, of her furious love of conquest, of


her reckless scorn of the suiFerings and the rights of
mankind. Nobler principles have followed, under a
wiser rule. But if France draws the sword again in
the spirit of Napoleon, she will exhibit to the world
only "the fate of Napoleon. — It will be her last war.

On my arrival in England, I found the public
mind clouded with almost universal dejection. — Pitt
was visibly dying. He still held the nominal reins
of government, but the blow had been struck, and
his sole honour was now to be, that, like the Spartan
of old, he died on the field, and with his buckler on
his arm. There are secrets in the distribution of
human destinies, which have always perplexed man-
kind ; and one of those is, why so many of the most
powerful minds have been cut off in the midst of
their career, and lost to mankind, at the moment
when their fine faculties were hourly more essential
to the welfare of government, of public principle, and
of the general progress of society.

I may well comprehend that feeling, for it was my
own. — I saw Pitt laid in his grave ; I looked down
into the narrow bed, where slept all that was mortal
of the man who virtually wielded the whole supre-
macy of Europe. Yet how little can man estimate
the future ! Napoleon was in his glory, when Pitt
was in his shroud. Yet, how infinitely more honoured,
and more happy, was the fate of him by whose se-
pulchre all that was noble and memorable in the
living generation stood in reverence and sorrow ; than
the last hour of the prisoner of St. Helena !

Both were emblems of their nations. The English-


man, manly, pure, and bold, of unshaken firmness,
of proud reliance on the resources of his own nature,
and of lofty perseverance through good and through
evil fortune. The foreigner, dazzling and daring,
of singular intellectual vividness, and of a thirst of
power which disdained to be slaked, but at sources
above the ambition of all the past warriors and states-
men of Europe. — Napoleon was the first who dreamed
of fabricating anew the old Roman sceptre, and esta-
blishing an empire of the world. His game was for
a prodigious stake, and, for awhile, he played it with
prodigious fortune. He found the moral atmosphere
filled with the floating elements of revolution; he
collected the republican electricity, and discharged it
on the cusps and pinnacles of the European thrones,
with terrible effect. But, from the moment, when
he ceased to be the man of the Revolution, he lost
the secret of his irresistible strength. As the head
of the great republic, making opinion his precursor,
calling on the old wrongs of nations to level his
way ; and marshalling alike the new-born hopes and
the ancient injuries of the continental kingdoms, to
fight his battles ; the world lay before him, with all
its barriers ready to fall at the first tread of his
horse's hoof. As Emperor, he forged his own chain.
Napoleon, the chieftain of republicanism, might
have revolutionized Europe; Napoleon, the monarch,
narrowed his supremacy to the sweep of his sword.
Like a necromancer weary of his art ; he, in the very
act of preparing to return to the old habits and ways
of mankind, scattered the whole of his magnificent

MARSTON. ■ 221

illusions into "thin air;" flung away his creative
wand, for a sceptre ; and buried the book of his
magic "ten thousand fathom deep," to replace it
only by the obsolete statutes of humbled courts, and
the weak etiquette of governments in decay. Fortu-
nate for mankind that he committed this irrecover-
able error, and was content to be the lord of France,
instead of being the sovereign of opinion ; for his
nature was despotic, and his power must have finally
shaped and massed itself into the most stupendous
tyranny. Still, he might have long influenced the
fates, and long excited the awe of Europe. There
were imaginative and capricious minds enough
ourselves to have made his triumph perilous. We,
too, might have worshipped his Star, and have for-
gotten the danger of the flaming phenomenon, in the
rapidity and eccentricity of a course, which we saw
eclipsing the old luminaries in succession; until it
touched our orbit, and visited us in conflagration.

It was said, that Pitt died of a broken heart, in
despair of the prospects of England. The defeat of
Austerlitz was pronounced his death-blow. What
thoughts may cluster round the sleepless pillow, who
shall tell? But no man knew England better; none
had a bolder faith in her perseverance; none a
stronger reliance on her principle; none had more
broadly laid the foundations of victory in national
honour. I shall never be driven into the belief that
William Pitt despaired of his country.

He died in the vigour of his genius, in the proud-
est struggle of the empire, in the midst of the deepest
L 3


trial, which, for a thousand years, had demanded all
the faculties of England. Yet, what man within
human recollection had lived so long, if we are to
reckon life not by the calendar, but by triumphs ?
What minister of England, or what minister of Europe,
but himself, was the head of a European government
for three-and-twenty years ? What man had attained
so high a European rank ? What mind had influenced
so large an extent of European interests? What
name was so instinctively pronounced by every na-
tion, as the first among mankind ? — To have earned
distinctions like those, was to have obtained all that
time could give. Not half a century in years, Pitt's
true age was patriarchal.

I was now but a spectator. My connexion with
public life was broken off. Every name with which
I had been associated was swept away ; and I stood
like a man flung from shipwreck upon a shore, where
every face which he met was that of a stranger. I
was still in Parliament, but I felt a loathing for public
exertions. From habit, I had almost identified office
with the memorable men whom I had seen governing
so long; and the new faces, the new declamation, and
the new principles, which the ministerial change
brought before me nightly, startled my feelings even
less as new than as incongruous.

I admitted the ability, the occasional intelligence,
and perhaps even the patriotism of the cabinet ; but
in those reveries, (the natural refuge from a long de-
bate,) memory so often peopled the Treasury Bench
with the forms of Pitt and his distinguished coadju-


tors, and so completely filled my ear with his sono-
rous periods and high-toned principles, that when I
was roused to the reality, I felt as those who have
seen some great performer in one of Shakspeare's
characters, until no excellence of his successor can
embody the conception once more.

I now retired from the tumult of London, and
returned to tastes which I had never wholly forgot-
ten ; taking a small residence within a few miles of
this centre of the living world, and devoting my
leisure to the enjoyments of that life, which, in the
purest days of man, was given to him as the hap-
piest, " to dress the garden, and keep it." Clotilde in
all her tastes joined with mine, or rather led them,
with the instinctive elegance of a female mind,
accomplished in every grace of education. We read,
wrote, walked, talked, and pruned our rose-trees, and
gathered our carnations and violets together.

She had already given me those pledges, which,
while they increase the anxiety, also increase the
affection of wedded life. The education of our chil-
dren was a new source of interest. They were hand-
some and healthy. Their little sports, the growth of
their young perceptions, and the freshness of their
ideas, renewed to us both all the delights of society
without their exhaustion. And often, when, after a
day spent in the smoke and bustle of the great City,
I reached my rustic gate, heard the cheerful voices of
the little population which rushed down the avenue
to cling upon my neck ; and stood at the door of my
cottage, with my arm round the waist of my beautiful
L 4

^124; MARSTON.

and fond wife, breathing the evening fragrance of a
thousand blooms, and enjoying the cool air, and the
purple glories of the sky — I often wondered, why
men should seek for happiness in any other scene ;
and felt gratitude, not the less sincere for its being
calm and solemn, to the Giver of a lot so nearly
approaching to human fulness of jo3\

But the world rolls on, let who will slumber

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Online LibraryGeorge CrolyMarston, or, The soldier and statesman (Volume 3) → online text (page 14 of 19)