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

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temper, had I the endurance of toil, the measureless


patience, the inexhaustible equanimity, which every
night of my pubhc existence would henceforth de-
mand ? or, why was this heart-wearying struggle to
be preferred to the simple and straightforward pur-
suit of an honourable profession, in which the only
burden was my sword, and the only secret of distinc-
tion an untarnished name ?

But, I soon made up my mind. The question nar-
rowed itself to this : which was the more active life ?
The point of honour was no longer in the adherence to
a profession, whose purposes were necessarily changed.
Every hour gave additional evidence, that the gates of
the Continent were closing upon the English soldier.
On the other hand, influence, impression, publicity,
were the prizes of a political career. I saw all other
names fade before the great senatorial names of Eng-
land. I heard men of humble extraction among them,
filling the world with their fame. I saw a succession of
individuals, who, if their profession had been arms,
or if their birth-place had been the Continent, must
have lived and died in the routine of obscure service ;
here rising to the height of national homage, lights
of their generation, and guiding by their opinions
the opinion of mankind.

Whether I should ever take my place among those
illustrious names, scarcely entered into my thoughts.
But, I was determined, never to waste my life in con-
scious indolence. Scarcely knowing what faculties I
miight possess, I fully resolved on trying their utmost
strength ; and grown almost indifferent to the ordi-
nary pursuits of human ambition ; I looked with
something of a melancholy, yet proud hope, to the
c 5


enjoyment, which was to be found, in giving myself
up to the solitary and stern toil of living for a great
cause, and leaving a name behind me, that should
not be forgotten.

On that very day, the intelligence arrived, that the
British troops had marched for the north of Ger-
many ; that the royal duke was on his way to Eng-
land ; and that the Allies, by common consent, had
abandoned the invasion of France. My habits were
always prompt. Before the hour was over, in which
the gazette appeared, I waited on my ministerial
friend, and expressed my full acquiescence in his

I pass by the process of getting into Parliament ;
it was then a simpler matter than it has since be-
come. A treasury borough was the gate through
which all the leading names of the country had
entered the legislature, and 1 merely followed the
path of all, but the lords of the soil.

Every man who will make himself master of an
occupation must serve an apprenticeship. Parliament,
too, has its seven years' indentures, and the few who
have refused the training, have seldom been the wiser
for their precipitancy. I " bided my time," taking a
slight occasional share in those debates with whose
topics I happened to be well acquainted; and ex-
pecting the chances, which, to every one who employs
himself vigorously, are all but certainties. Still, I
felt that this mere hovering on the outskirts of
debate must not last too long, and that nothing was
more hazardous to a reputation, than to be too slow
in attempting to lay its first stone. Yet, I felt some


difficult}', on every great question ; and, after bracing
my nerves for the onset, I always found my courage
fail at the sight of the actual encounter. I felt, as a
young knight might have felt in some of the tilting
matches of old — master of his charger in the open
field, and delighting in the pressure of his armour
and the weight of his lance ; but, when he once rode
within the barrier, saw the galleries filled, and the
heralds lifting the trumpets to their lips, feeling his
blood grow chill, and the light depart from his eyes.

I mentioned this embarrassment to my Scottish
friend, and almost expected a remonstrance. To my
great surprise and greater pleasure, he congratulated
me. " You cannot give a better sign," said he.
" My only fear of you was, that you would dash into
debate at once, like a man jumping from a precipice;
and that, like him, all that you would have gained
by it, would be broken limbs for life."

"But, what is to be done in the House without
some hazard of the kind?"

"Wrong — quite wrong. A great deal is to be
done. Take myself for the example. You see where
I am, and yet I never made a speech in my life. From
the beginning of my career, I never allowed any one
to look for any thing of the kind from me ; and the
consequence was, that by some I was regarded as a
much shrewder personage than I ever believed my-
self to be ; and by others was thought to know a
great deal more, than I ever acquired."

" But, will this account for the rapid distinctions
of your public life ?"

" Perfectly, so far as they have gone. I obtained
c 6


ministerial confidence, on the essential merit of
being a safe man — one who made no intriguing at-
tempts to lower the crests of those above me. I
escaped the jealousy of those below me, by adopting
the moderation which mediocrity assumes by nature.
I was thus, like the senior subaltern in a marching
regiment — I wore the same uniform with the colonel,
and went through the same exercise with the ensign.
The field-officers knew that I would not tread upon
their heels; and every subaltern wished to see my
promotion, as a step to his own."

"This was the feeling of an honourable mind.
Yet this was but manner after all," said I.

" Well, what is life but manner ?" he replied with
a smile. " But I had another quality — ' Diligence.'
The two carry every thing, in time."

My official duties, the mere entrance into office,
occupied me laboriously for awhile, and I felt all
the habitual difficulties of my noviciate. It had been
fully my intention, to follow the advice of my ex-
perienced friend, and leave the hour which was to
call for my exertions in the House to the chances of
the time. But that time came more rapidly than I
had expected. The, public mind was fevered, hour
by hour; the news from the Continent was more
and more startling ; the successes of the Republican
armies had assumed a shape, which our desponding
politicians regarded as invincibility, and which our
factious ones pronounced to be the ruin of Europe.
The cabinet itself saw only the prospect of a melan-
choly struggle. But six months before, it had stood,
strong as a citadel erected by the national hands,


and garrisoned by the spirit of the empire. It still
stood, but it stood dismantled ; there were evident
breaches in its walls, and the fugitives of Opposition,
rallying with the hope of success, advanced again to
the storm, headed by their great leader, and sus-
tained by the capricious and fluctuating multitude.
The premier was harassed by the incessant toil of
defence — a toil in which he had scarcely a sharer,
and which exposed him to the most remorseless

Yet, if the historian were to choose the moment
for his true fame, this was the one which ought
to be chosen. He rose, with the severity of the
struggle; assault seemed to give him new vigour;
the attempt to tear the robe of office from his
shoulders only gave the nobler display of his intel-
lectual proportions. When I saw him, night after
night, standing almost alone, with nothing but
disaster in front and timidity in the rear, combating
a force such as had never before been arrayed under
the banners of Opposition ; the whole scene of mag-
nificent conflict and still grander fortitude, reminded
me of the Homeric war and its warriors. — The
champion of the kingdom, standing forth, in despite
of evil omens thickening round him, defying not
man alone, but the deepening cloud, and the sinister

I speak of those times, and of the great men of
those times, in no invidious contrast with later days.
I have so strong a faith in the intellectual vigour, which
freedom gives to a great empire, that I am convinced
of our being able, in all its eras, to find the express


species of public talent essential to its services. I
regard the national mind, as the philosopher does the
natural soil, always capable of the essential produce,
where we give it the due tillage. The great men of
the past century passed away along with it ; they
were summoned for a day of gigantic conflict, and
were formed for that conflict ; their muscular vigour,
the power with which they wielded their weapons,
the giant step and the giant hand, were all necessary,
and were all shaped, and sustained, by that necessity.
But their day had its close ; the leaders of man — like
the " mighty hunters" of an age, when the land was
still overshadowed with the forest, and the harvest
was overrun with the lion and the panther; would
naturally give place to a less daring and lofty gene-
ration, when the forest had given way to the field,
and the lair of the wild beast had become the high-
way and the bower.

But if the evil day should again return ; the
guardian power of intellect and virtue will again
come forth in the human shape, and vindicate the
providence that watches over the progress of man-
kind. I utterly deny the exhaustion of national
genius ; I even deny its exhaustibility. If the moral
vegetation languishes, and the soil is parched, for
awhile; the great source of refreshing and fertility
still lies before us — the public mind, in its boundless
expansion, and in its unfathomable depth ; the intel-
lectual ocean, which no plummet has ever sounded,
and which no shore has ever circumscribed; ready
to restore the balance of nature.

But, the sense of power itself in the national


mind, forbids the exhibition of its strength, in tran-
quil times. It is lofty and fastidious ; it will not
stoop to a contest in which there is nothing to be con-
tended for. It is not an actor ; and it cannot adopt
the figured passion of the actor, rend its robe, and
flourish, and obtest heaven against the traitor and
the oppressor, to the sound of an orchestra, or in
the glitter of stage lamps. The true ability of the
empire must scorn all mimic encounter ; and what
else can be the little struggles of party shut up in
the legislature, whose sound scarcely transpires
through the walls, whose triumphs are a tax, and
whose oracles are an intrigue ? But, when the true
day of trial shall come — when an enemy shall be seen
hovering on the coasts of the Constitution — when
trumpet answers trumpet, and national freedom is
proclaimed " in danger ;" then, and not till then,
shall we know the superb resources of our intellec-
tual strength : whatever may have been the prowess
of the past, we may see it not merely rivalled, but
thrown into eclipse by the future ; the burnished
armour, and massive swords and maces of our old
intellectual chivalry, superseded only by more ma-
nageable and more irresistible implements of suc-
cess ; and the sterner conflict only followed by the
more consummate triumph.

Yet, it is curious, that when we undervalue the
living ability of the nation, from its momentary quie-
tude ; we but adopt the example of every past age, in
succession. The last ten years of the last century
were preceded by a period of despair ; — Chatham's
career was run, and the national regrets over his


tomb were mingled with sorrows for the extinction of
all parliamentary fame ! — " The day had gone down,
and darkness was to cover the sky for ever." But,
the prediction was scarcely uttered, when the horizon
was in a blaze ; mighty meteors rushed across it in a
thousand courses of eccentric speed and splendour ;
and a period of intellectual display began, which
once more cheered, and dazzled, the empire.

Anne's Augustan age of war, negotiation, and
eloquence, was once pronounced to be, like the
Augustan age of Rome, incapable of rivalship by
posterity. Yet, our own times have seen a bolder
war, a broader peace, and a richer development of
science, invention, and eloquence. For fifty years,
England was pronounced, to have worn herself out,
by the prolific brilliancy of the half century before ;
like a precocious infant, to have anticipated her
powers, and ensured their premature decay ; or, like
the Boeotians, to have had her Pindaric period, and
be thenceforward doomed to pay for her rapture and
renown by perpetual darkness. England seemed,
like the Israelites in Egypt, to be sunk into an in-
tellectual slave-caste ; — when, in the midst of the
scoflSng, and the sorrow, suddenly arrived a new
epoch, a new summons to the national genius, a
new time of lofty interpositions, " thunderings in the
air, and lightning running along the ground," an
era of marvellous things ; and the generation went
forth, with a new sense of superiority, into new
scenes of knowledge, discovery, and empire.

Whether it was my good or ill fortune, to make
my first effort, in the midst of the men whose


names immortalized their day, I shall not venture to
decide. But, my resolve had been firmly taken —
not to remain in Parliament, unless I discovered in
myself faculties fit for its service. I was determined,
not to play the mute, if I had the means of uttering
a voice. But, now the whole force of administration
was demanded ; and I made up my mind to ascer-
tain by trial, what no man can be sure of without
that trial, whether I possessed any capacity for
a life of public sersdce, or was entitled to form a
hope of personal distinction.


" Order is Heaven's first law, and this confest,
Some are, and must be greater tlian the rest.
More rich, more wise ; but who infers from lience
That such are happier, shocks all common sense.
Condition, cii-cumstance, is not the thing.
Bliss is the same in subject and in king.
Heaven breathes through every member of the whole.
One common blessmg, as one common soul ;
But fortune's gifts, if each alike possessed,
And each were equal, must not all contest 1"


The subject on which I first spoke, was an ad-
dress to the throne, in answer to the King's message
on the war. On this night Pitt, but lately recovered
from a fit of his hereditary gout, spoke briefly, and
with evident feebleness of frame. Fox, whose
energy seemed always to depend on his rival's
power, and whose eloquence always rose or fell with
the vigour or languor of the minister — Fox, never so
great as when Pitt put forth all his strength, on
this night idled away the hour, through the mere
want of an antagonist ; but Sheridan made ample
compensation for his leader. The House had fallen


into lassitude, and the benches were already thin,
when he arose. I had heard him as the humorist,
on some trivial occasions of debate. I had often en-
joyed the social pleasantry, which placed him at the
head of the wits ; but I was still but imperfectly ac-
quainted with the strong sarcasm, the deep disdain,
and the grave sophistry, which this extraordinary
man could exhibit with such redundant ease, and
wield with such practised dexterity. I must give
but an outline of a noble picture.

"You have made war," said he, " and you have
made the arms of your country contemptible by
failures, which you rendered inevitable by your rash-
ness. You, sir," and he fixed his flashing eye on
the premier, " have commenced that war by a series
of declarations, which made our diplomacy as con-
temptible as our campaigns. The national sword
has been wrested from our hands. But you were
not content with that humiliation, and you added to
it the disgrace of the national understanding. You
laid down a succession of principles, and then
trampled them in the dust on the first opportunity.
You encumbered yourself for action with pledges
which you could never have intended to sustain, or
which in the first collision your pusillanimity threw
away. Yet I deprecate the perfidy of those measures,
even more than I despise their weakness. I can
com.prehend the effrontery of aggression ; but I scorn
the meanness of intrigue. I may face the soldier,
but I shudder at the assassin. I may determine to
hunt down and destroy the lion, but I disdain the
trap and the pitfall. And what has been the pretext


of his majesty's ministers ? Moderation. In this
spirit of moderation they invaded France ; in this
spirit of moderation they captured her fortresses,
and then handed them over to the Emperor ; in this
spirit of moderation they denounced the men who
had given France a constitution ; and in this spirit
of moderation you now prepare to rebuild her
Bastille, to restore her scaffolds, to reforge her chains,
and summon all the kings of Europe, instead of
taking a salutary lesson from the tomb of the mo-
narchy, to see its skeleton exhumed, and placed,
robed and crowned, upon the throne ; with the
nation forced to offer homage, at once in mockery
and terror, to the grinning emblem ; in which, with
all your philtres, you can never put life again."

The orator then gave a general and singularly
imposing view of the state of our European con-
nexions ; which he described as utterly frail, the
result of interested motives, and sure to be broken
up at the first temptation. But the '^ first lord of
the treasury and chancellor of his majesty's
exchequer," said he, " smiles at my alarm ; he has
his security at his side — he has the purse, which
commands all the baser portion of our nature with
such irresistible control ! On one point I fully
agree with the right honourable gentleman — that
nothing but the purse could ever keep them faithful.
Yet, is there nothing but gold, that can bribe ? is
there no bribe in territory? will he not find, when
he hurries to the purchase of allies with the millions
of the treasury in his hand, that more powerful
purchasers have been there before him ? When he


offers the loan, will he not find them offering the
province ? when he bids with the subsidy, will he
not be outbid with the kingdom ? Or, if the anti-
cipated conquerors of Europe, raising their sense of
dignity to the level of their power, should disdain
the traffic of corruption ; will not the roaring of the
French cannon in the ears of kings make them feel,
that, to persist in your ill-omened alliance, is to
devote themselves to ruin ? will they bargain, in
sight of the axe ? will they dare to traffic in the
blood of their people, with the grave dug at their
feet ? will they be dazzled by your gold, while the
French bayonet is startling their eyes ? Within ten
years, if England exists, she will be without an ally
on earth ; or, if she continues to fight, it will be in
loneliness, in terror, and in despair."

In this strain he poured out his daring conceptions
for more than two hours, during which he kept the
whole audience in the deepest attention. He con-
cluded in an uproar of plaudits from both sides of
the House.

My time now came. And the rising of a new
member, always regarded with a generous spirit of
courtesy, produced some additional interest, from the
knowledge of my services on the Continent, and my
immediate connexion with the ministry. The House,
which had filled to overflowing in the course of She-
ridan's incomparable speech, was now^ hushed in the
most total silence, and every eye was turned on me.
I shall say nothing of my perturbation, further than
that I had stood before an enemy-s line of ten thou-
sand men, with their muskets levelled within half a


hundred yards of me ; and that I thought the
benches of the House of Commons on that night
looked much the more formidable of the two. I
thought that the ground was shaking under my feet,
and I could have almost rejoiced to have sunk into
it, from the gaze, and the silence, which equally
appalled me. While I attempted to mutter a few
sentences, of which I felt the sound die within my
lips ; my eye was caught by the quick turn of Pitt's
head, who fixed his impatient glance upon me. Fox,
with that kindliness of heart, which always forgot
party, when a good-natured act was to be done, gave
his sonorous cheer. From that instant, I breathed
freely, and, recovering my voice and mind together,
I plunged boldly into the boundless subject before

After discussing a few of the showy sophisms which
the orator of the opposition had constructed into his
specious argument, I placed the war on the ground
of necessity. " Nations cannot act like individuals
— they cannot submit to self-sacrifice — they cannot
give up their rights — they cannot affect an indolent
disdain or an idle generosity. The reason. of the dis-
tinction is, that in every instance the nation is a
trustee — it has the rights of posterity in its keeping;
it has nothing of its own to throw away ; it is respon-
sible to every generation to come. If war be essential
to the integrity of the empire, war is as much a duty
— a terrible duty, I allow — as the protection of our
children's property from the grasp of rapine, or the
defence of their lives against the midnight robber.
But, we are advised to peace. No man on earth


would do more willing homage than myself to that
beneficent genius of nations.

" But where am I to offer my homage ? Am I to
kneel on the high-road, where the enemy's armies,
fierce with the hope of plunder, are rushing along? Am
I to build my altar in the midst of contending thou-
sands, or on the ground covered with corpses — in the
field of battle, or on the grave ? Or am I to carry my
offering to the capital, and there talk the language of
national cordiality, in the ear of the multitude drag-
ging their king to the scaffold ? Am I to appeal to
the feelings of human brotherhood, in streets smoking
with civil massacre ; to adjure the nation by the na-
tional honour, where revolt is an avowed principle ;
to press upon them the opinion of Europe, where
they have proclaimed war with the world ; to invoke
them by the faith which they have renounced, or the
allegiance which they have disdained, or the God
whom they have blasphemed ? Are those things possi-
ble ? If we are to have a treaty with this new order of
thinking and action, it must be on principles like their
own ; it must be a compact of crime, a solemn agree-
ment of treachery, a formal bond of plunder ; it must
be a treaty fitter for the cavern of conspiracy than
for the chamber of council ; its pledge must be like
that of Catihne, the cup of human blood !

" No ! the most powerful reprobation which ever shot
from the indignant lip of the moralist, would not be too
strong, for the baseness which stooped to such a treaty,
or for the folly which entangled itself in such toils.
Not even the bui'ning language of prophecy would
be too solemn, or too stinging, for the premeditated


wretchedness, and incurable calamity, of such a bond.
No ! if we must violate the simplicity of our national
objects by such degrading, and such desperate, in-
volvements ; if we should not shrink from this con-
spiracy against mankind, let it, at least, not be
consummated in the face of day ; let us at once
abandon the hollow pretences of human honesty ;
let us pledge ourselves to a perpetual league with
rapine and revolution ; let it be transacted not in
this place of national council, but in some haunt of
darkness and shame ; and let its ceremonial be worthy
of the Spirit of evil which it embodies, whose power
it proclaims, and to whose supremacy it commands
all nations to bow down."

In alluding to the menace, that our allies would
soon desert us, I asked, " Is this to be the magnanimity
of party ? Is England to be pronounced so poor, or so
pusillanimous, that she must give up all hope, unless
she can be suffered to lurk in the rear of the battle ?
What says her prince of poets ? —

' England shall never rue,
If England to herself shall be but true.'

Is this ^ little body with a mighty heart,' to depend
for existence on the decaying strength, or the decrepit
courage, of the Continent? Is she only to borrow
the shattered armour which has hung up for ages in
the halls of continental royalty, and encumber her-
self with its broken and rusty panoply for the ridicule
of the world ?

'•' But we are told that all is lost. I allow, that the
European governments have undergone the vicissi-


tudes of fortune. But, instead of scoffing at the
facility of their overthrow, let us raise them on their
feet again ; or, if that be beyond human means, I
shall not join the party-cry which insults their fall —

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