George Croly.

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

. (page 4 of 19)
Online LibraryGeorge CrolyMarston, or, The soldier and statesman (Volume 3) → online text (page 4 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

I certainly shall not exult in that melancholy pageant
of mixed mirth and scorn, in which, like the old Ro-
man triumph, the soldier with his ruthless jest and
song goes before the chariot, and the captive monarch
follows behind ; wearing the royal robe and the dia-
dem only till he has gratified a barbarous curiosity
or a cruel pride, and then exchanging them for the
manacle and the dungeon, — I deprecate the loss of
these alliances ; and yet I doubt, whether the country
will ever be conscious of her true strength, until the
war of the Continent is at an end. I more than
doubt the wisdom, of suffering others to take the
lead, which belongs to us by the right of superior
rank, superior prowess, and superior fame. I shall
have but slight regret for the fall of those outworks
which — massive, nay, majestic, as they are — waste
the power of England, by the division of her force,
and make us decline the gallant enterprize of the
field — ramparts and fosses, which reduce us to defence,
and -which, while they oflTer a thousand points of
entrance to an active assault, shut us in, and dis-
qualify us from victory."

I now repeat this language of the moment, solely
from later and long experience of its truth. I fully
beUeve, that if England had come forward to the
front of the battle, in the early years of the war, she
would have crushed all resistance; or if she had
found, by the chance of things, the Continent impe-



netrable to her arms, she would have shut it in,
with a circuravallation of iron, until its factions had
worn each other out, and dismay had subdued the
frenzy of the age,

I was now fully engaged in public life. The eifort
which I had made in Parliament had received the
approval of Pitt; who, without stooping to notice
things so trivial, as style and manner, on questions of
national life and death ; highly applauded the courage
which had dared to face so distinguished a Parlia-
mentary favourite as Sheridan, and which had taken a
view of affairs so accordant with his own. From this
period, I was constantly occupied in debate; and,
taking the premier for my model, I made rapid pro-
ficiency in the difficult art of addressing a British
House of Commons.

Of course I have no idea of giving myself that
praise on the subject ; which no man can give to
himself on any, without offence. But I felt, that
it was an art which might escape, and which had
often escaped, men of distinguished ability; yet
might be possessed by men of powers altogether
inferior. I must acknowledge, too, that a portion of
my success was owing to the advice of that shrewdest,
and at the same time most friendly of human beings,
the secretary.

"You must be a man of business," said he, "or
you will be nothing ; for praise is nothing — popu-
larity is nothing — even the applause of the House is
nothing. These matters pass away, and the orators
pass away with them. John Bull is a solid animal,
and likes reality. This accounts at once for the success


of hundreds of men of mediocrity, and for the failure
of so many men of fine powers. The latter fly too
high, and thus make no way along the ground ;
They always alight on the same spot. While the
weaker, but wiser, have simply put one foot before
the other, and have pushed on. Sheridan, at this
moment, has no more w^eight in the House, than he
had within a twelvemonth after taking his seat. Fox,
with the most powerful abilities, is looked on, as little
beyond a magnificent speechmaker. His only weight
is in his " following." If his party fell from him to-
morrow, all his eloquence would find its only echo in
bare walls, and its only panegyric in street-placards.
Pitt is a man of business, complete, profound, inde-
fatigable. If you have his talents, copy his pru-
dence; if you have not, still copy his prudence —
make it the interest of men to consult you, and you
must be ultimately successful."

I laughingly observed, that the " Nullum numen
abest" had been honoured with an unexpected illus-

" Sir," said the minister, fixing his keen grey eye
upon me, " if Eton had never taught any other
maxim, it would have been well worth all the toil of its
" longs and shorts." — It is the concentration of wis-
dom, personal, private, and public ; the polar star of
politics, as probably you would say; or, as I, in my
matter-of-fact style should express it, the finger-
post of the road to fortune."

There never was a time when all the maxims of
political wisdom were more required. A long
succession of disasters had already broken down the
D 2


outworks of the continental thrones. The renown
of the great armies of Germany was lost ; the disci-
pline of the Prussian, and the steady intrepidity of
the Austrian, had been swept before the wild dis-
order of the French. Men began to believe that the
great art of war was hitherto unknown, and that the
enemy had at length mastered the exclusive secret.
Monarchy came to be regarded as only another name
for weakness ; and civilized order for national decrepi-
tude. A kind of superstition stole over the minds of
men ; the signs of European overthrow were fancifully
discovered, in every change ; calculations were calmly
raised on the chances of existence in the most power-
ful dynasties ; the age of crowns was in the wane,
the age of republics was in the ascendant ; and while
the feebler minds looked with quiescent awe, on what
they regarded as the inevitable tide of events, the
more daring regarded the prospect as a summons to
prepare for their part in the spoil. The struggles of
Opposition grew more resolute, as its hope of success
came nearer ; and the Government began to feel the
effects of this perpetual assault, in the sudden neu-
trality of some of its most ostentatious champions,
and in the general reserve of its supporters in the
House. Even the stern perseverance of Pitt was
beginning to be weary of a contest, in which victory
lost its fruits, on the one side ; while defeat seemed
only to give fresh vigour, on the other.

I was returning one morning from the House,
after a night spent in a fierce debate on the war,
which Fox denounced with an asperity unusual to
his generous temperament. The premier had made


a powerful appeal, vindicating the government from
all share in the continental misfortunes ; pronouncing
loftily, that, in a war not made for conquest, it was
sophistry to speak of our failure of possession as a
crime; and declaring in a tone of singular boldness
and energy — that if the Continent were untrod by a
British soldier, there was a still broader field for the
arms and the triumphs of England. But his eloquence
had more effect in exposing the errors, than in re-
ducing the numbers of his opponents, and the small-
ness of his majority would have made a feebler spirit
resign on the spot. The announcement of the num-
bers was received with an insulting cheer by the
minority, and the cabinet was already by anticipation
in their hands.

I left the House, wearied and dejected, and was
returning to Downing street, to throw myself on a
couch, and get a few hours of rest before my morning
toil ; when I found a messenger at the door of my
office, with a request from the secretary of state,
that I should attend him as soon as possible. I found
my friend before a table covered with despatches, his
brow furrowed with weariness like my own.

" You see me here, Marston, more tired than any
ploughman or watchman, or any other son of labour,
from this to John O'Groat's House. I was sent for,
from the House, six hours ago, and every hour since
have I been poring oveir those puzzled papers. How
long I can stand this wear and tear the physicians
must tell, but it would require the constitution of
Hercules or Sampson, or both together, to go through
D 3


the work that is beginning to fall on the members of
the cabinet.

I offered to give him such assistance at the time, as
was in my power.

" No, no, Sir ; I am chained to the oar for to-
night at least, and must pull, till I fall asleep. My
purpose in keeping you from your pillow at this
hour, is not, to relieve myself from trouble ; but, to
ask, whether you are disposed to relieve the govern-
ment from a serious difficulty, and m a way which I
hope will be not disagreeable to yourself." I con-
cluded that my mission was to be continental, and
my heart danced at the suggestion. In England, it
was impossible to continue my search for the being
on whom all my thoughts were fixed ; but, once be-
yond the sea, and I should have the world before me.
I asked, " whether there was any intention of trying
the chances of attack again on the French frontier ?"

" None whatever. The greater probabihty is, that
the French will make some experiment on the
strength of ours."

I looked all astonishment. He interpreted my look,
and said — "To solve the enigma at once. It is our
wish, to send you to Ireland. The danger is there."

I listened in silence while he w^ent into a long
detail of the hazard of the island, arising from the
interests of a powerful republican party ; who, in-
flamed by the successes of France, were preparing to
receive troops and arms from the republic. He
finished by saying, in a tone of compliment, which,
from him, was as unusual, as I believe it was sincere ;


that my exertions in the House had attracted consider-
ation in the highest quarter, and that I had been
proposed, in that quarter, for the chief-secretaryship
of Ireland. He added, that the premier had assented
to the appointment at once ; " and here,^' said he, '•' is
the warrant, which I have prepared, in anticipation of
its acceptance. — You are, from this moment, the vir-
tual viceroy of Ireland." I was deeply disappointed.

And yet, this was unexpected elevation ! I had at
once surmounted all the slow gradations of office ; the
broadest prospect of official ambition was suddenly
opened before me ; popularity, founded on the most
solid grounds, was now waiting only my acceptance ;
the sense of power, always dear to the heart of man,
was offered its full gratification. But, it is only jus-
tice to myself to say, that the deciding impulse, after
all, was the desire to leave a name, as the benefactor
of a people, who seemed to me as much gifted by
nature, as they were unhappy by circumstances.

" How long will it take you to prepare for the
journey?" asked the minister.

" Half an hour," was my reply.

" Bravo ! Marston. I see that your campaigning
has not been thrown away upon you. You have the
soldier's promptitude. We were prepared to allow
you a week. But, the sooner you set off the better.
The truth is," said he rising, " we feel great diffi-
culties in that quarter. — The most thoroughly En-
glish portion of the island is at this moment the
most disturbed. There are drillings, purchases of
arms, midnight musterings, and even something not
far from prepared attacks upon the king's troops.
D 4


The papers among which you found me, contain a
regular, and a very complete, organization of an insur-
rectionary government. You will require all the
energy of the soldier, and all the prudence of the

" Let me add to them," said I, " what is essential to
the success of both, in a country of generous hearts
and quick conceptions, the sincerity of a patriot."

" The experiment is well worth making," said he
with a smile, " if it were only for your own sake.
But Ireland has qualities which, like those of her soil,
require only to be turned up to the light, to re-
ward all the labours of wealth or wisdom." Before
that evening closed, I was a hundred miles on my
way to the Irish capital. A rapid journey, and a
tranquil passage over the sixty miles of sea, that lie
between Wales and Ireland, gave me, what an old
Roman would regard as an omen of the peacefulness
and success of my mission.

On the dawn of one of the finest mornings of
the year, I came within sight of the Irish shore; and
was struck, as all travellers have been, by the
beauty of the bold and picturesque coast, which
rose from the waters before me. In front was a pro-
vince of mountains, touched by all the variety of
colours, which are painted in such richness by the
summer sun, on groups of pinnacles and cones, forest
hills, and the fine diversities of woodland and moun-
tain scenery. On one side, the eye glanced over a
vast sheet of water, shut in by headlands, and as blue
and bright as a lake under an Italian sky. At the
extremity of this noble estuary, a cloud, unchanging


and unmoving, showed where a city sent up the smoke
of its ten thousand fires ; there lay the Capital.

My official rank threw open the elite of Irish
society to me at my first step ; and I found it, as
it has been found by every one else, animated,
graceful, and hospitable. Even the nature of its
government tended to those qualifications. While
the grave business of the state was done in London,
the lighter business of public life was sedulously sus-
tained in the Irish capital. The lord-lieutenant was
generally a nobleman, selected more for his rank and
wealth, than for his statesmanship. A rich, showy,
and good-humoured peer was then the true man for
the head of affairs in Ireland. It was of more import-
ance, that he should give balls and suppers, say lively
things to the ladies, and be jocular with the gentle-
men, than that he should have the brains of Boling-
broke or the tongue of Chatham. But the position
of the secretary was the antipodes of this tranquil
and festive sinecure. He was, in Ireland, what the
premier was in England ; but with ten times more
of the difficulty, and ten times less of the power.
The whole conduct of public affairs lay on his
shoulders ; he was responsible for every thing, while
he was free in nothing ; he was perpetually assailed
by Opposition for measures which he was not at liberty
to explain, and placed between the English cabinet
and the Irish party, as a scapegoat for the mistakes
of the one, and a target for the shot of the other.

But his chief trial of temper was in the House of
Commons. Opposition in Ireland never exhibited
a list of more remarkable names. Government had a
D 5


majority behind its bench, and that majority often re-
cruited from the ranks of Opposition ; but the more
distinguished were fixed to party by their own cele-
brity; and the recruits, however sincere, were so
liable to be attacked for their change of side, that they
were paralyzed ; and in some instances, they were so
much galled by the merciless sharp-shooting of their
former associates, that they ran back, and left the
minister to fight the battle alone.

I was fortunately free from the entanglements of
that question, which has since formed so large a por-
tion of the political disquietudes of Irish debate. — The
religion of the south was not yet among parliamen-
tary topics. The religion of the north, active, ardent,
and indefatigable, was our most restless theme ; and
the political theories which seemed to grow out of
its bold abstractions, kept the government in per-
petual anxiety. The whole northern portion of the
island was ripe for revolt. America had blown the
hot-blast of the revolutionary furnace across the
Atlantic, and a spark from France would have now
ignited the whole moral surface of the soil.

One of my first acts, after arranging the prelimi-
nary business of office, was to make a flying tour
through Ulster. I was astonished at its beauty.
Even after being familiar with the loveliness of the
English landscape, I was in a state of continual sur-
prise at the variety, richness, and singularity, of
nature in the northern counties. Mountain, lake,
stately bay, and broad river, followed each other
in noble and unceasing succession. I was still more
struck with the skill and good fortune, by which


the people had contrived to combine the industry
of manufactures with the life of the fields ; a problem
which England herself had failed to solve. But,
most of allj I was attracted by the independent air,
and handsome and vigorous appearance of a people;
where almost every man was a proprietor, and had the
look which proprietorship alone can give. I found
books in almost every cottage, decency of dress every
where, and among the higher orders frequent elegance
and accomplishment. The women were cultivated and
intelligent; the men, spirited and enquiring. Un-
happily, the politics of France had made their way
through a large portion of the province, and the glories
of a republic "loomed large" before the popular eye.
As it was my purpose to see, all that I could, with
my own eyes ; I mingled largely in society, made no
distinction between honourable men of different poli-
tical creeds, enjoyed on one day the stag-hunt and cla-
ret of the noble Whig, and on the next, the stag-hunt
and claret of the noble Tory, listened to all, laughed
with all, and learned something from all. The English
aristocrat, especially if he held high official rank, once
haunted the imaginations of the Irish of all orders and
creeds, like the incarnation of an Indian deity — all
fierceness and frigidity; and it must be acknowledged
that the general muster-roll of viceroys and secretaries
had hitherto not tended much to remove the concep-
tion. They were chiefly men in advanced life, with
habits formed by intercourse with the most exclusive
class in existence, the English peerage ; or rendered ri-
gid by the dry formalities of their official career. But, I
was young, had seen a good deal of that rough work of
D 6


the world, which gives pliancy, if not polish, to all
characters ; and I was, besides, really delighted with
the liveliness, pleasantry, and winning kindness, which
exhibited themselves every where round me. With
the people, I was half a son of Ireland already, and I
regarded the recognition as the pledge of my success.

" Do you know," said one of the most influential
and accomplished noblemen of the country to me,
one day at his sumptuous table — " how many of the
lords-lieutenant have left a popular recollection be-
hind them?"

I professed my ignorance ; but enumerated some
names remarkable for intelligence and vigour of ad-

" Oh," said my entertainer, " that was not the
question ! Grave statesmen and showy governors,
capital rulers of the country, and bold managers of
our factions, we have had in sufficient succession ; but
I speak of the faculty of being remembered; the
talent of making a public impression ; the power of
escaping that national oblivion into which mere offi-
cial services, let them be of what magnitude they may,
inevitably drop, when their performer has disappeared.
— Well, then, I shall tell you. Tvjo, and no more."

I begged to know the names of those " discoverers
of the grand secret, the philosopher's stone of popu-
larity, the alchemists who had power to fix the float-
ing essence of the Irish mind ! "

" Chesterfield and Townshend. Chesterfield, re-
garded as a fop in England, was a daring, steady, and
subtle governor of the unruly spirits of Ireland, in
one of its most hazardous periods. That the throne


of the Brunswicks did not see an Irish revolt, at the
moment when it saw a Scottish invasion, was the ser-
vice of Chesterfield. But he ruled less by his wis-
dom, than by his wit. He broke down faction by
bon-mots ; he extinguished conspiracy by happy
compliments; administered the sternest law with
the most polished smile ; and cut down rebellion by
quotations from La Fontaine, and calembourgs from
Scarron. Still, with those fortunate pleasantries he
combined public and solid services. Among the rest ;
he threw a large portion of the crown lands into a
park for the popular recreation, and thus gave one of
the earliest examples of regard for the health and
enjoyment of the citizens ; a more enduring monu-
ment of his statesmanship could not have been offered
to the gratitude of the country."

Of the Marquis Townshend I had heard as a gal-
lant soldier, and a stirring viceroy, but I still had to
learn the source of his popularity.

"Townshend was one of those singular men, who
possess faculties of which they have no knowledge,
until the moment when they become necessary. He
began life as a soldier, and finished his soldiership in
sharing the most important victory of his day ; the
battle of Quebec. On his appointment to the vice-
royalty, he found his government a chaos ; a govern-
ment faction superseding the governor, and an oppo-
sition faction engrossing the people. He now, for
the first time, became a politician. He resolved to
crush both, and he succeeded. He treated the go-
vernment faction in Ireland with contumely ; and he
treated the opposition with contempt. Both deserved


the treatment. Both were indignant ; he laughed
at both, and treated them with still deeper scorn.
Both were astonished — the government faction in-
trigued against him in England, the opposition threat-
ened impeachment. He defied them still more
haughtily. They at length found that he was not to be
shaken, and both submitted. The nation joined him,
and was pacified ; grew in vigour, as it grew in tran-
quillity ; and in that tranquillity you have the secret of
all the privileges which Ireland has ever obtained.

"Townshend had performed, only on a smaller
scale, the same national service, which Pitt afterwards
performed in England. He took the people out of
the hands of party, broke up the league of faction,
and gave the island that freedom, which the great
minister of England gave to the empire. For this
the name of Townshend lives among us still. His
bold satires are recorded, his gallant bearing is re-
membered, his passing pleasantries have become a
portion of the national wit, and his rough, but effect-
ual, services are among the memorials of our inde-
pendence as a people."

The evening of this hospitable day concluded with
a ball to the neighbouring families, and all was grace-
ful and animated enjoyment. My host had travelled
much in early life, and had brought home some fine
pictures and valuable sculptures. He was an ac-
complished classical scholar — a quality which I found,
in some degree, fashionable among the leading per-
sonages of the time, and which unquestionably
added much to the high tone of conversation among
the parliamentary circles. In his stately mansion


an artist might have found studies, a scholar learn-
ing, a philosopher wisdom, and a man of the world
all the charms of polished life. — Yet, how soon, and
how fearfully, were they all to be extinguished ! How
bitterly were all who honoured and esteemed that
generous and highly-gifted nobleman, to feel " what
shadovv^s we are, and what shadows we pursue !"

Our mornings were chiefly spent in hunting, over
the fine landscape which spread, in all the various
beauty of cultivation, within view of the mansion. On
one of those days, the observation of the field was
caught by the fierce riding of a singular- looking man,
scarcely above the peasant in his general appearance,
and yet mounted on one of the finest English hunters
that I had ever seen. He rode at every thing, ma-
naged his horse with practised skill, and soon became
an object of general emulation. To " ride up " to
the " wild Huntsman," was found to be a task not
easily accomplished, and, at length, all was a trial of
speed with this dashing exhibitor. A glance which,
when on the point of one of his most desperate leaps,
he threw back at me, seemed a kind of personal
challenge, and I rushed on at speed.

The Irish hunter is matchless at " topping " stone
walls, but his practice has not lain much among rivers;
and the English horse is sometimes his master at the
deep and rapid streams which, running between
crumbling banks, are perhaps the severest trials to
both horse and rider. The majority of the hunt
pulled up at the edge of one of those formidable
chasms, and I was by no means unwilling to follow
their example ; but the look of the stranger had


a sneer along with it, which put me on my mettle,
and I dashed after him. The hounds had scrambled
through, and we rode nearly abreast through a broken
country, that mixture of bog and firm ground which
occurs frequently in newly-cleared land, and over
which nothing but the most powerful sinews can
make way. We had now left every one behind us,

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryGeorge CrolyMarston, or, The soldier and statesman (Volume 3) → online text (page 4 of 19)