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among its roses. The political world was awoke by
a thunder-clap. Fox died. He was just six months
a minister ! Such is ambition, such is the world. He
died, like Pitt, in the zenith of his powers, with his
judgment improved and his passions mitigated, with
the noblest prospects of public utility before his eyes,
and the majestic responsibilities of a British minister
assuming their natural rank in his capacious mind.
The times, too, were darkening ; and another " lode-
star " was thus stricken from the national hemisphere,
at the moment when the nation most wanted guid-
ance. The lights which remained were many; but
they were vague, feeble, and scattered. The " leader
of the starry host" was gone.

I cannot trust myself to speak of this distinguished
man ; for I was no Foxite. I regarded his policy in
opposition, as the pleadings of a powerful advocate,
with a vast retaining fee, a comprehensive cause, and
a generous and confiding client. Popularity, popular
claims, and the people, were all three made for him
beyond all other men ; and no advocate ever pleaded
with more indefatigable zeal, or more resolute deter-
mination. But, raised to a higher position, higher


qualities were demanded. Whether they might not
have existed in his nature, waiting for the develop-
ment of time, is the question. But time was not
given. His task had hitherto been easy. It was
simply, to stand a spectator on the shore, criticising
the manoeuvres of a stately vessel struggling with
the gale. The helm was at last put into his hand
and it was then that he felt the difference between
terra firma, and the wild and restless element which
he was now to control. But, he had scarce! v set his
foot on the deck, when he, too, was swept away. On
such brevity of trial, it is impossible to judge. Time
might have matured his vigour, while it expanded his
views; matchless as the casual leader of a party, he
might then have been elevated into the acknowledged
leader of a people. The singular daring, ardent sen-
sitiveness, and popular ambition, which made him
dangerous in a private station, might then have fountl
their nobler employment, and been purified as he
rose into the broad and lofty region of ministerial
duty. He might have enlarged the partizan into
the patriot, and, instead of being the great tempter
of a populace, have been ennobled into the illustrious
guide of an empire.

L 5


" Mourn genius high, and love profound,
And wit, that loved to play, not wound ;
And all the reasoning powers divine,
To penetrate, resolve, combine.
And if thou mourn'st, they could not save
From error, him who owns this grave.
Be every harsher thought supprest,
And sacred be his last, long rest,
And partial cast aside.
Record, that Fox a Briton died."

Sir Walter Scott.

But the world never stands still. On the day
when I returned from moralising on the vanity of
life over the grave of Fox, I received a letter, a
trumpet-call to the melee, from Mordecai. It was
enthusiastic, but its enthusiasm had now taken a
bolder direction. " In abandoning England,^' he
told me, " he had abandoned all minor and personal
speculations, and was now dealing with the affairs
of kingdoms." This letter gave only fragments of
his views ; but it was easy to see that he contem-
plated larger results than he ventured to trust to his
pen. It was from Poland.


" You must come and see me here," said he, " for
it is only here that you can see me, as I ever desired
to be seen ; or, in fact, as nature made me. In your
busy metropoKs, I was only one of the millions, who
were content to make a sort of a reptile existence,
creeping on the ground, and living on the chances of
the day. Here I have thrown off my caterpillar life,
and am on the wing; a human dragon-fly, if you
will; darting at a thousand different objects, enjoy-
ing the broad sunshine, and speeding through the
wide air. My invincible attachment to my nation
here finds its natural object; for the sons of Abra-
ham are here a 'people. — I am here a patriarch, with
my flocks and herds, my shepherds and clansmen,
the sons of my tribe coming to do me honour, and
my heart swelling and glowing with the prospects of
national regeneration. I have around me a province,
to which one of your English counties would be but
a sheepfold ; a multitude of bold spirits, to whom
your populace would be triflers ; a new nation, elated
by their approaching deliverance, solemnly indignant
at their past oppression, and determined to shake the
land to its centre, or to recover their freedom.

" You will speak of this as the vision of an old
man — come to us, and you will see it a splendid
reality. But observe, that / expect no miracle. I
leave visions to fanatics ; and while I acknowledge the
Power of Powers, which rides in clouds, and moves
the world by means unknown to human weakness, I
look also to the human means which have their place
in speeding the wheels of the great system. The


army which has broken down the strength of the
Continent — the force which, Hke a whirlwind, has
burst such tremendous chasms through the old do-
mains of European power, and has torn up so many
of the forest monarchs by the root — the French
army, the greatest instrument of human change since
the Gothic invasions, is now marching direct on

" I have seen the man who is at the head of that
array — the most extraordinary being whom Europe
has seen for a thousand years — the crowned basilisk
of France. I own, that we must beware of his fangs,
of the blast of his nostrils, and the flash of his eye.
He is a terrible production of nature : but he is
on our side ; and, even if he should be finally
trampled, he will have first done our work.— I have
had an interview with Napoleon ! it was long and
animated. He spoke to me, as to the chief man of
my nation, and I answered him in the spirit of the
chief man. He acknowledged, that the general
change, essential to the true government of Europe,
was incapable of being effected, without the aid of
our people. He spoke contemptuously of the im-
policy by which we had been deprived of our privi-
leges, and declared his determination to place us on
a height from which we might move the world. But
it was obvious to me, that under those lofty decla-
rations there was a burning ambition; that if we
were to move the world, it was for him ; and that,
even then, we were not to move it for the monarch
of France, but for the individual. I saw, that he


was then the dreamer. Yet his dream was the extra-'
vagance of genius. In those hopeless graspings and
wild aspirations, 1 saw ultimate defeat ; but I saw
also the nerve and muscle of a gigantic mind. In
his pantings after immeasurable power and imperish-
able dominion, it was plain that he utterly forgot the
barrier Avhich time rears before the proudest step of
human genius ; wholly unconscious, that, within a few
years, his head must grow grey, his blood cold, the
sword be returned to its sheath, and even the sceptre
fall from his nerveless hand. Still, in our conference,
we both spoke the same language of scorn for human
obstacles, of contempt for the narrowness of human
views, and of our resolution to effect objects which, in
many an after-age, should fix the eye of the world. — ■
But he spoke of mortal things ; relying on mortal
conjecture and mortal power. I spoke of immortal,
and on surer grounds. I felt them to be the con-
summation of promises which nothing can abolish ;
the splendid offspring of power which nothing can
resist. The foundation of his structures was policy,
the foundation of mine was prophecy. And when
his shall be scattered, as the chaff of the threshing-
floor, and be light as the dust of the balance ; mine
shall be deep as the centre, high as the heavens, and
dazzling as the sun in his glory."

In another portion of his letter, he adverted to the
means, by which this great operation was to be

" I have been for three days on the Vistula, gazing
at the march of the ' Grand Army.' It well deserves


the name. It is the mightiest mass of power ever
combined under one head ; half a miUion of men.
The armies of Xerxes were gatherings of clowns,
compared to this incomparable display of soldier-
ship; the armies of Alaric and Attila were hordes of
savages, in comparison ; the armies of ancient Rome
alone approached it in point of discipline, but the
most powerful Roman army never reached a fifth of
its number. — I see at this moment before me the
conquerors of the Continent, the brigades which
have swept Italy, the bayonets and cannon which
have broken down Austria, and extinguished Prussia.
— The eagles are now on the wing for a mightier

This prediction was like the prayers of the Ho-
meric heroes —

" One half the gods dispersed in empty air."

Poland was not to be liberated ; the crisis was su-
perb, but the weapon was not equal to the blow. It
was' the first instance in which the French Emperor
was found inferior to his fortune. With incomparable
force of intellect. Napoleon wanted grandeur of mind.
It has become the custom of later years to deny him
even superiority of intellect ; but the man who, in a
contest open to all, goes before all— who converts a
republic, with all its ardour, haughtiness, and passion,
into a monarchy at once as rigid and as magnificent as
an Oriental despotism — who, in a country of warriors,
makes himself the leading warrior — who, among the


circle within circle of the subtlest political intrigues,
baffles all intrigues, converts them into the material of
his own ascendancy, and makes the subtlest and the
boldest spirits his instruments and slaves; has given
unanswerable evidence of the superiority of his talents.
— The soldier, who beat down in succession all the
great military names of Europe ; the negotiator who
vanquished all existing diplomacy; the statesman
who remodelled the laws, curbed the fiery temper,
and reduced to discipline the fierce insubordination of
a people, flushed with a sense of irresistible victory ;
last and chief trial of all ; the Jacobin, who cast the
Republic into the grave, and made its sepulchre the
foundation of his throne ; must have possessed abili-
ties of the first order.

Or, if those were not the achievements of intellect,
by what Avere they done ? If they were done without
it, of what value is intellect ? Napoleon had thus,
only found the still superior secret of success ; and
we deny his intellect, simply to give him attributes
higher than belong to human nature. — No man before
him dreamed of such success, no man in his day
rivalled it, no man since his day has attempted its
renewal. " But he was fortunate ! " What can be
more childish than to attempt the solution of the
problem by fortune ? Fortune is a phantom. Cir-
cumstances may arise beyond the conception of man;
but, where the feebler mind yields to circumstances,
the stronger one shapes, controls, and guides them.

The true solution belongs to higher views of the
moral government of the globe. This man was sent


for a great purpose of justice, and he was gifted with
the faculties for its execution. A tremendous act of
imperial guilt had been committed, of which Europe
was to be purged by penalty alone. The ruin of
Poland was to be made a moral to the governments
of the earth ; and Napoleon was to be the fiery brand
that was to imprint the sentence upon the foreheads
of the great crimmals. It is in contemplations like
those, that the spirit of history ministers to the
wisdom of mankind. Whatever may be the retribu-
tion for individuals beyond the grave, justice on
nations must be done in this world ; and here it will
be done.

The partition of Poland was the most comprehen-
sive and audacious crime of the modern world. It
was a deliberate insult, at once to the laws of nations
and to the majesty of the great Disposer of nations.
And never fell vengeance more immediate, more dis-
tinct, or more characteristic. — The capital of Austria
twice entered over the bodies of its gallant soldiery ;
Russia ravaged and Moscow burnt ; the Prussian
army extinguished by the massacre of Jena, and
Prussia, in a day, fettered for years ; such were the
summary and solemn retributions of Heaven.

But, when the penalty was paid, the fate of the
executioner instantly followed. Guilt had punished
guilt, and justice was to be done alike upon all.
Napoleon and his empire vanished, as the powder
vanishes, that explodes the mine. — The ground was
broken up ; the structures of royalty on its surface
were deeply fractured ; the havoc was complete ;


but the fiery deposit which had effected the havoc
was itself scattered into air.

Napoleon's fierce nature was made for execution ;
he wanted the greatness of mind, for restoration.
The re-estabUshment of Poland would have been an
act of consummate grandeur. It would have esta-
blished a new character for the whole Revolution.
It would have shown, that the new spirit which had
gone forth summoning the world to regeneration,
was itself regeneration ; that all conquest was not
selfish, and all protestation not meant to deceive.
If Napoleon had given Poland a diadem, and placed
it on the brow of Kosciusko ; he would, in that act,
have placed on his own brow a still richer diadem ;
which no chance of the field could have plucked
away ; a dazzling answer to all the calumnies of his
age, and all the doubts of posterity. He might even
have built, in the restoration of the fallen kingdom,
a citadel for his own security, in all the casualties of
empire; but, in all events, he would have fixed in
the political heaven a star which, to the last recol-
lection of mankind, w^ould have thrown light on his
sepulchre, and borne his name.

The fall of the Foxite ministry opened the way to
a new cabinet, and I resumed my office. But we
marched in over ruins. Europe had been shattered.
England had stood aloof and escaped the shock ;
but, to stand aloof then was her crime ; her sympathy
might have saved the tottering system. Now, all
was ffone. When we looked over the whole level of


the Continent, we saw but two thrones, France and
Russia ; all the rest were crushed. England was
without an all3^ We had begun the war, with
Europe in our line of battle ; we now stood alone.
Yet, the spirit of the nation was never bolder than
in this hour, when a storm of hostility seemed to be
gathering round us from every quarter of the world.
Still, there were voices of ill omen. It was said,
that France and Russia had resolved to divide the
world between them ; to monopolize the East, and
the West ; to extinguish all the minor sovereignties ;
to abolish all the constitutions ; to turn the world
into two vast menageries, in which the lesser
monarchies should be shown, like caged lions, for
the pomp of the two lords-paramount of the globe.
I heard this language from philosophers, orators, and
even from statesmen ; but I turned to the people,
and I found the spirit of their forefathers unshaken
in them still — the bold defiance of the foreigner, the
national scorn of his gasconading, the desire to
grapple with his utmost strength, and the willing-
ness, nay, the passionate desire, to rest the cause of
Europe on their championship alone. I never heard
among the multitude a sound of despair. They had
answered the call to arms with national ardour.
The land was filled with voluntary levies, and the
constant cry of the people was — conflict with the
enemy, any where, at any time, or upon any terms.
More fully versed in their national history than any
other European people, they remembered, that in
every war with France, for a thousand years, England

t MARSTON. 235

had finished with victory. They saw that she had
never suffered any one decisive defeat in the war ;
that wherever the forces of the two nations could
come fairly into contact, their troops had always
been successful ; and that from the moment when
France ventured to contest the empire of the seas,
all the battles of England were triumphs, until the
enemy was swept from the ocean.

The new cabinet founded its plans on the national
confidence, and executed them with statesmanlike
decision. The struggle on the Continent was at an
end ; but they resolved to gird it with a chain of fire.
Every port was shut up by English guns; every
shore was watched by English eyes. Outside this
chain, the world was our own ; the ocean was free ;
every sea was traversed by our commerce, with as
much security, as in the most profound peace. The
contrast with the Continent was of the most striking
order. There all was the dungeon — one vast scene
of suffering and outcry ; of coercion and sorrow ;
the conscription, the confiscation, the licensed
plunder, the bitter and perpetual insult. The hearts
of men died within them, and they crept silently to
their obscure graves. Wounds, poverty, and fero-
cious tyranny, the heart-gnawing pangs of shame,
and the thousand thorns which national and con-
scious degradation strews on the pillow of men
crushed by the insolence of a soldiery, wore away the
human race ; provinces were unpeopled, and a gene-
ration were laid prematurely in the grave.

The recollections of the living world will long


236 MARSTON. •

point to this period as the most rnenacing portion of
all history. The ancient tyrannies were bold, pre-
sumptuous, and remorseless, monopolies of power;
but their pressure scarcely descended to the multi-
tude. It crushed the senator, the patrician, and the
man of opulence ; as the tempest smites the turrets
of the palace, or shatters the pinnacles of the moun-
tain range. But the despotism of France searched
the humblest condition of man. It tyrannized over
the cottage, as fiercely as it had trampled on the
thrones. The German or Italian peasant saw his
son torn away, to perish in some distant region, of
w^hich he knew no more, than that it was the grave
of the thousands and ten thousands of his fellow
shepherds and vintagers. The despotism of France
less resembled the domination of man, from which,
with all its vigilance, there is some hope of escape ;
than the subtlety of a demon, which has an evil and
a sting for every heart, and by which nothing can be
forgotten, and nothing will be spared. In the whole
immense circle of French dominion, no man could
lay his head down to rest, with a security that he
might not be roused at midnight, to be flung into a
captivity from which he was never to return. No
man could look upon his property, the earnings of
his manhood, the resource for his age, or the provi-
sion for his children, without the knowledge, that it
was at the mercy of the military plunderer. No man
could look upon the birth of his child, without the
bitter consciousness, that another victim was pre-
paring for the general sacrifice ; nor could see the


ripening form or intellect of those who were given to
him by Providence for the comfort and companion-
ship of his advancing years, without a conviction that
they would be swept away from him. The father
felt that he would be left unsheltered and alone ; and
that those in whom his life was wrapt, and whom he
would have gladly given his life to save, were des-
tined to perish by some German or Russian bayonet,
and make their last bed among the swamps of the
Danube, or the snows of Poland.

I am not now speaking from the natural abhor-
rence of the Briton for tyranny, alone. The proofs
are before the eye of mankind. Within little more
than half the first year of the Polish campaign, three
conscriptions, of eighty thousand youths each, were
demanded from France alone. Two hundred and
forty thousand children were torn from their parents,
and sent to perish in the field, the hospital, or on
the march through deserts where winter reigns in
boundless supremacy !

Let the man of England rejoice, that those terrible
inflictions cannot be laid on him ; and be grateful to
the freedom which protects this most favoured nation
of mankind. Arbitrary arrest, and the conscription,
are the two heads of the serpent — either would em-
bitter the existence of the most prosperous state of
society ; they both at this hour gnaw the vitals of the
continental states; they alienate the allegiance, and
chill the affections ; even w here they are mitigated
by the character of the sovereigns, they still remain
the especial evils which the noblest patriotism should


apply all its efforts to extinguish, and the removal of
which it would be the most illustrious boon of princes
to confer upon their people.

But the ramparts of the supreme empire of slavery
and suffering were to be shaken at last. The breach
was to be made, and stormed by England ; Europe
was to be summoned to follow, and achieve its own
deliverance ; and England was to move at the head
of the proudest armament that ever marched to con-
quest, for the liberties of mankind.

She began by a thunder-clap. The peace with
Russia had laid the Czar at the mercy of France.
Napoleon had intrigued to make him a confederate
in the league against mankind. But the generous
nature of the Russian monarch shrank from the con-
spiracy ; and the secret articles of the treaty of Tilsit
were divulged to the British cabinet. I shall not
now say from what authority they came ; but the
confidence was spontaneous, and the effect decisive.
Those Articles contained the outline of a plan for
combining all the fleets of the Continent, and pouring
final vengeance on our shoi'es. The right wing of
that tremendous armament was to be formed of the
Danish and Russian fleets.

This confederacy must be broken up, or we must
see a hundred and eighty ships of the line, freighted
with a French and Russian army, at the mouth of
the Thames. There was not a moment to be lost, if
we were to act at all ; for a French force was already
within a march of the Great Belt, to garrison Den-
mark. The question was debated in council, in all


its bearings. All were fully aware of the clamour
which would be raised by the men who were lending
themselves to every atrocity of France. We were
not less prepared for the furious declamation of that
professor of universal justice, and protector of the
rights of neutral nations ; the French Emperor. But
the necessity was irresistible ; the act was one of self-
defence ; and it was executed accordingly, and with
instant and incomparable vigour. A fleet and army
were despatched to the Baltic. An assault of three
days gave the Danish fleet into our hands. The con-
federacy was broken up, and the armament returned,
with twenty sail of the enemy's line, as trophies of
the best planned and boldest expedition of the war.

Napoleon raged ; but it was, at finding that Eng-
land could show a promptitude like his own, sanc-
tioned by a better cause. Denmark complained
pathetically of the infringement of peace, before she
had "completed her preparations for war;" but
every man of political understanding, even in Den-
mark, rejoiced at her being disbm'dened of a fleet,
whose subsistence impoverished her revenues, and
whose employment could only have involved her in
fatal hostilities wdth Britain. Russia was loudest in
her indignation, but a smile was mingled with her
frown. Her statesmen w^re secretly rejoiced, to be
relieved from all share in the fearful enterprise of an
encounter with the fleets ^f England ; and her Em-
peror was not less rejoiced to find, that she had still
the sagacity and the courage which could as little be
baffled as subdued ; and to which the powers of the


North themselves might look for refuge in the next
struo:2;le of diadems.

This was but the dawning of the day ; the sun was
soon to rise. Yet, public life has its difficulties in
proportion to its height. As Walpole said, that " no
man knows the human heart but a minister;" so
no man knows the real difficulties of office, but the
man of office. Lures to his passions, temptations to
his integrity, and alarms to his fears, are perpetually
acting on his sense of honour. To make a false step
is the most natural thing in the world under all those
impulses ; and one false step ruins him. The rumour
reached me that there were dissensions in the cabi-
net; and, though all was smooth to the eye, I had
soon sufficient proof that the intelligence was true.
A prominent member of the administration was the

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Online LibraryGeorge CrolyMarston, or, The soldier and statesman (Volume 3) → online text (page 15 of 19)