George Hooker Colton.

The American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 1) online

. (page 30 of 124)
Online LibraryGeorge Hooker ColtonThe American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 1) → online text (page 30 of 124)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


one we quoted, as made at the close of
the first campaign of the Republic against
the allied forces on the Rhine. " These
considerations are calculated to dispel the
popidar illusion, as to the capability of an
entJiusiastic population alone to ivithstand
the attacks of a poiverful regular army."
We hardly know which to admire most
here, the awkward look of this Janus-
headed philosophy, or the solemn as-
surance with which the contradictory
faces look down on us. But what is
the reason of this strange twist in his
logic .' Simply this : When speaking
of the defeat of the Republicans in
their contests with the allied forces, it
was the enthusiasm of democrats against
disciplined royalists ; in the other case,
the enthusiasm o^ royalists against disci-
plined democrats. A " popular illusion"
becomes a grave fact with Mr. Alison, in
the short space of one chapter, and the
" enthusiasm and valor" of republicans
and royalists has an entirely different
effect on the serried ranks of a vete-
ran army. But the flat contradiction
he here gives himself, is of no great
consequence, only as it illustrates our



1845.]



Alison''s /Ualory of /Europe.



157



first statement, that, he cannot be relied
on in those cases, where monarcliicaland
republican principles or men come in
collision. The deductions of such a man
are false and injurious, and the same
spirit that can make them will purposely
or involuntarily alter facts.

But his sympathy with monarchy is
not stranger than his sympathy with
England ; and we find, that no trust can
be placed in him, whenever in his nar-
rative his own government and country
are contrasted with others. His account
of the Irish Rebellion, during this period,
and indeed his whole description of the
affairs of that unhappy country, are
shamefully false ; and we must believe,
in charity, that Mr. Alison never tho-
roughly studied the history of Ireland.
He was too much occupied in tracing the
marches and battles of those armies that
shook Europe with their tread, to devote
much time or space to the struggles of a
few millions of Irishmen. We should be
indignant with the heartlessness evinced
in his opening paragraph on the history
of Ireland, were it not for the ludicrous
solemnity with which the words are ut-
tered. " In surveying the annals of this
unhapp3' countiy, it appears impossible,
at first sight, to explain the causes of its
suffering, by any of the known principles
of human nature. Severe and concili-
atory policy seems to have been equally
unavailing to heal its wounds — conquest
has failed in prodvxing submission, se-
verity in enforcing tranquiUitij, indul-
gence in awaking gratitude." There
spoke the self-complacent Englishman.
With what a patronising air, and deplor-
ing tone, he refers to this "unhappy
country," and how utterly unable to ac-
count for its ill-will. We cannot s}"m-
pathise with Mr. Alison in his surprise,
for, in all our knowledge of the history
of nations, we have never read of such
national perfidy and oppression and cru-
elty so long continued, as the whole his-
tory of the English and Irish connection
presents. How England could have
heaped more insults and wrong and
misery on Ireland than she has, without
exterminating her, we are unable to see.

" The first British sovereign," says I\Ir.
Alison, " who directed his attention to
the improvement of Ireland, was James
I. He jvMhi boasted, that there would
be found the true theatre of his glory,
and that he kad done more in a single
reign for the improvement of that impor-
tant part of the empire than all liis pre-



decessors irorn ihfs days of Henry H."
And what was the result of all this kind-
ness on the part of .larne.s I., " Instesi/J
of increased traiujuillily and augmented
gratitude, there broke out, shortly after,
the dreadful rebellion of HiJl, which
was only extinguished in oceans of
blood." Poor return this for the kindnese
of the indulgent monarch. But in what
consisted the kindness of King Jarnes,
that it so outshone all that had been done
by his predecessors since Henry II., and
which, instead of awakening gratitude,
e.xasperated the Irish into rebellion .' Eli-
zabeth had commenced an extensive
scheme of confiscating Irish estates, but
as she approached her grave her injustice
alarmed her fears, for she thought of that
tribunal above all earthly tribunals, and
immediately gave order to have the con-
fiscation stopped, and some of the estates
restored. The very first act of kind King
James was to recommence this plan of
confiscation. The Earls of Tyrone and
Tyrconnel first fell beneath his hand. Un-
der the pretext that they were engaged in
a Catholic conspiracy, which was not
only never proved, but never attempted
to be proved, all the land of which they
were chiefs, to the amount of 500,000
acres, fell to King James. Having ac-
complished this benevolent act, he under-
took to establish an English colony there,
but fearing the Irish Parliament would
defeat his plans, he created forty boroug/is
at once in order to have a majority in the
house. This was very kind of the king,
but his kindness did not stop here. His
next art was to appoint a commission
" for the discovery of defective titles" in
Irish estates. A band of " discoverers,"
v.'ho were rewarded according to their
success, went through the country prying
into the private affairs of the nobihty,
and wringing from them large sums as
fees to pay for not being robbed. But
witnesses had also to be suborned, bribes
and tortures and violence used, till the
annual expense of carrying out this
kingly robbery amounted to £16,000, or
nearly •880,000, inorc than the ichole re-
venue of Ireland. The next kind act of
this king of blessed memory, was to start
a scheme to get the whole province of
Connaught into his royal hands. The
proprietors of the land becoming alarmed,
offered to the covetous monarch £10.000
to let them alone ; and while he was bal-
ancing between the money in hand and
the whole province of Connaught in
prospect, the " King of kings" summoned



158



Alison''s History of Europe.



[Feb.



him away from the throne he had stained
with injustice and blood. We confess
the Irish were not eminently grateful for
the espionage, confiscation, and robbery,
that James graciously granted them, and it
is difficult for us to see on what " prin-
ciples of human nature" they should be.
It is equally untrue that the rebellion
iollowed this extraordinary generosity
of James. The rebellion did not take
place till after the accession of Charles I.
To save themselves in future, a large
meeting of gentlemen was held in Dublin,
at which a bill of rights was drawn up,
entitled "Graces." The king's signa-
ture to this was asked, and a promise
given of an amount of £50,000 for
the use of the crown. The king gave
his promise, took the mo7iey, and then
refused to grant the " Graces." On
the top of this falsehood, the Earl of
Strafford began to carry out James' plan
of the settlement of Connaught. This
was followed by robberies and injustice
in the shape of confiscations, backed by
500 horsemen, till the indignation of the
people broke over all bounds ; and then
the rebellion commenced, and not till
then. We charge Mr. Alison here with
more than ignorance. He has misstated
some of the most obvious facts in Eng-
lish history. There is not a tyro in his-
tory unacquainted with the perfidy of the
English government towards Ireland, and
that she has never granted her any pri-
vileges until they were wrung out by
stern necessity, and the threatened horrors
of a civil war. If Lord Castlereagh could
rise from his suicidal grave, he could
whisper some truths in Mr. Alison's ear,
that might enlighten his conscience if not
afTect his narrative.

To go over the mere enactments against
Ireland, would be the severest argument
against all that Mr. Alison has said.
From the statute of Kilkenny, in 1367,
which declared " that if any of English
descent should use an Irish name, the
Irish language, or observe Irish customs,
he should forfeit his estates until security
was given for his conformity to English
habits," and in which it was forbidden
" to entertain any native minstrel or
story-teller, or to admit an Irkk horse to
graze tn the pasture of an English sub-
ject;" to the carrying of the Union by
50,000 troops, and bribes to the amount
of S5,000,000 under the infamous Castle-
reagh, and the breaking of the solemn
promise that the exchequers should be
kept separate, the acts of the government



of England have been worthy the worst
days of the inquisition. The barbarous
massacres that have been perpetrated by
successive monarch?, the repeated con-
fiscations of a large portion of the entire
i.sland, the robbing her of her legislature
by fraud and violence, the oppiessive
action of the tithe system, and the drain-
age of nearly six millions annually, by
absenteeism, and the scorn, and injusLice,
and contumely heaped on her for centu-
turies, have so exasperated the people that
there is constant and terrible danger of out-
breaks. As a conclusion of all this, Mr.
Alison declares it to be an incontes-
tible fact that Ireland is unfit for a
popular government, and that a " wise
philanthrophy " dictates that she should
now " receive for half a century, a wise,
humane, but despotic government." Were
the English statesmen such fools as to
believe this, we should have one of the
bloodiest massacres that ever stained the
pages of history. He seems utterly un-
conscious of the progress of the human
mind towards its rights, and imagines
that it needs only a few bayonets to
arrest all its inquiries, and check all its
impulses He speaks in the same man-
ner of the Catholic Emancipation Bill,
and though he acknowledges the princi-
ple to be true in the abstract that religious
opinions should not subject a man to
civil disabilities, y^et the result has proved
that in the case of Ireland this act of sim-
ple justice was unwise, for instead of paci-
fying the country it has only taught it to
increase its demands, till now the cry of
repeal swells over the land. It may
have been unwise, but all the aristocracy
of England could not delay it without
commencing a massacre that would have
loaded England with endless infamy, and
brought down on her the curses of the
civilized world. Is Lord Brougham's
history of this fearful excitement a fic-
tion .' The petition accompanying this
hill was rejected by parliament on the
very grounds Mr. Alison presents at this
late day. This was in the winter; but
during the summer agitation and excite-
ment increased to such an alarming ex-
tent, and the petition came back, multi-
plied by so many voices and with so
stern and fierce an aspect, that noble lords
began to balance between a civil war
and an act of the plainest justice. The
next winter passed away in uttering just
such arguments as Mr. Alison now
claims to be so weighty ; but on the re-
turn of spring it became evident that a



1845.]



Alison^s History of Europe.



159



revolution was inevitable without the
passage ol the bill, and it passed. There
was no otiier choice in the case. We
lemarked the same unconsciousness of
the inevitable tendency of the spirit of
the age in which he lived, when speak-
ing of the French Revolution. Again
and again he puts his iingcr on the very
point where the revolution could have
been arrested with the utmost ease — nay,
• in one instance he asserts that the Vcndean
peasantry could have marched into Paris
and re-erected the Bourbon throne. He
seems to have about the same idea of the
providence of God in this struggle of
man for his rights, that Moreau had of
it in battle, when he said he usually
found it favored the strong battalions.

A revolution in France was as inevitable
as fate itself. Oppression and suffering
had reached the point of despair. Beyond
that they never go. In the same spirit
and in the same ignorance, he speaks of
the Reform Bill, starting with the princi-
ple, that the true idea of government is
to have the "greatest amount of Freedom
with the least minimum of Democracy,"
and that clamors for reform should never
be granted except when there are real
grievances ; he condemns the expedien-
cy of the passage of the Reform Bill. It
w^as, he declares, a mere aggression of
the democratic spirit which should have
been met and stifled at once ; for to yield
to its demands, is only learning it to
make greater demands, as subsequent
history has shown. This theory is cor-
rect, when applied to a feudal govern-
ment. We do not object to the logic,
but to the belief that it could be practi-
cally carried out. The aristocracy of
England reasoned precisely in the same
way, and soundly, too ; but they found
a spirit abroad stronger than their logic.
The foe they had to contend with was
not one of bone and muscle, that could be
thrast through with the bayonet or suffo-
cated in a prison. Macauley knew it,
when he thundered forth in the House of
Commons, " through Parliament or over
Parliament this bill will pass." Earl
Grey knew it when he resigned the
premiership because the bill could not
pass, and when recalled, made its pas-
sage the condition of his return, declaring
that otherwise he could not save Eng-
land from a civil war. Of this stern
necessity, this absolute omnipotence of
the spirit that is now abroad in the
world, Mr. Alison seems entirely uncon-
scious. His remedy for Democracy, in



all its stages and movements, is physical
force, and, so far as his doctiines have
influence on the Continent of Europe,
they will augment the present evils, and
hence increase the violence of their ulti-
mate cure.

It is a relief to turn from these evenla,
in the narrative of which Mr. Alison's
piejudiced feelings so bias his judgment
and truth, to those stirring scenes which
made Europe for nearly thirty years one
wide battle-fleld. While Mr. Ali.son
stands and looks ofi' on the continent,
after Bonaparte's star arose in the troubled
heavens, his English sympathies do not
put such obstacles in the way of relating
facts. Especially after Bonaparte shows
his aristocratic tendencies, does he ex-
hibit for him a high admiration. Th«
heroic character of the conqueror of so
many battles, necessarily wakens, in one
of Mr. Alison's poetic temperament, an
interest which is quite strong enough to
secure fair treatment from him. He does
Napoleon full justice, and if he errs at
all, does so in making him too unlike
ordinary mortals. In the description of
a battle we have never seen Mr. Alison's
superior. Before his excited imagination
the field rises again with all its magnifi-
cent array. He looks on the formation
of the line, the moving of the columns,
the charge of the cavalry, and all the
uproar and thunder of battle, with the
eye of a poet. He beholds nothing but
heroism in the commonest soldier, if he
but fights bravely, and the trade of war
is to him a splendid tragedy. This
vividness of imagination and excitement
of feeling give to his descriptions a life,
that, for the time, make them passing
realities. They throw over his narrative
also the charm of freshness ; and his style,
which, when he endeavors merely to
write elegantly, is bombastic, becomes
clear and vigorous. How much allow-
ance is to be made for his imagination, is
not so easy to say, and we suspect that
most of his readers would rather be
wrong on some details than lose the
vividness of the picture. The mere his-
toric parts being only a compilation from
other works, they owe their chief excel-
lence to the charm of Mr. Alison's style.
The work also is the only English one
devoted to those thirty years that wit-
nessed the rise and glory and downfall
of the French empire. Perhaps no bet-
ter will be written, yet 31r. Alison's owes
more than is generally conceded, to the
period he has chosen for his history.



160



Alison's History of Europe.



[Feb.-,



Thirty years of such stirring scenes,
lofty achievements, and awfuf disaster,
the earth never before witnessed. First
comes the French revolution, that terrific
explosion, that buried the king, the throne,
the aristocracy, and a million of men in
one bloody grave. Its scenes of violence
and massacre, its exhibitions of valor and
affection, and desperation and ferocity,
make the difficulty of the historian to
consist in knowing what to reject rather
than what to choose.

Next rises before us that strange being,
so powerful for evil or for good, Napo-
leon Bonaparte, who afterward scarcely
leaves the iield of vision, till he disappears
forever in the war-cloud of Waterloo.
The campaign of Italy follows in quick
succession, with its bloody field of Ma-
rengo and Novi and Areola and Lodi.
Scarcely has the battle-cloud swept from
the empire of the Cesars, revealing a new
dynasty there, before the gleaming of
French lances is seen around the pyra-
mids of Egypt. Spain is covered with
battle-fields — the Alps with mighty ar-
mies, struggling where the foot of the
chamois scarce dares to tread. Jena and
Austerlitz and Wagram and Borodino,
rise, one after another, before our aston-
ished sight, and Moscow's towers blaze
over the army of the Empire. Never be-
fore were such materials furnished, ready
made, to the historian. All varieties of
•war, from the ferocious and headlong
violence of the mob round the palaces of
Paris, to the encounter of the steadiest
armies of Europe — from the wild charge
of the Cossack, on the plains of Rus-
sia, to the fiery valor of the Turkish
cavalry, in the deserts of Egypt, we see
every shade and degree and quality of
combat. The same is true of the scenery
amid which all this is laid. Amid the
glaciers of the Alps and the vineyards of
Italy — on the sierras of Spain and the
sands of Egypt — amid the heat of the de-
sert and the snows of a Russian winter —
on the Nieman and Danube and Rhine
and Tiber and ancient Nile, is seen the
march of armies and heard the thunder
of battle. And seldom does the world
witness such distinguished men as moved
amid these scenes. There was Pitt and
Burke and Fox and Talleyrand and Ney
and Murat and Moreau and Lannes
and Macdonald and Wellington and
Bonaparte. And never, in modern his-
tory, were such results accomplished.
A common soldier rises to the empire of
half of Europe — thrones are overthrown.



kings discrowned, dynasties changed,
and the oldest monarchies of Europe on
their knees before a single adventurer.
The strange spectacle of kings searching
round their overturned thrones for their
fallen crowns — princes begging for bread
through the civilized world, and Europe
shaking to the tread of a single man, is
here presented for the first time to our
astonished view. We behold the power
of kings broken, and hear the final knell
of tyranny rung. And all this is seen
amid the tumult of battle, where prodi-
gies of valor are performed unparalleled
in the history of man. The peasants of
Vendee fight and fall about their homes,
with the heroism of the Spartan band at
Thermopylae. Bonaparte drags his artil-
lery over the Alpine pass that Hannibal
trod before him. Macdonald fights with
the avalanche that bears down whole
companies by his side, or leads his mighty
column straight into the murderous fire
of the enemy, leaving in his path a swath
of his dead followers, as he moves, till
only fifteen hundred are left around him.
Undaunted and unscathed, he still pushes
the torn head of his column into the ene-
my's lines, knowing that he carries an
empire with him. Murat and the fiery
Ney lead on their strong battalions where
the bravest shrink ; and, last of all, come
the heroic courage, the reckless daring,
and awful carnage of Waterloo. These
scenes no pen can paint better than ]\Ir.
Alison's ; and had he but shown himself
superior to the narrow prejudices of a
bigot, and taken the trouble to inform
himself on some points where his feelings
have made his facts, his history would
have been as reliable as it is entertaining.
We might select from these pages de-
scriptions that are perfect pictures, re-
maining among the distinct things of
memory. There is Areola and Bonaparte
standing on the bridge with the standard
in his hand, refusing to stir from the
storm of shot that swept where he stood,
till borne back by his own grenadiers.
There is Wagram, with the island in the
Danube, converted, for a while, into a
theatre, where genius wrought like ma-
gic, and beside it the battle-field, with
Bonaparte on his milk-white charger,
slowly riding backwards and forwards
before his lines that winced to the murder-
ous fire of the enemy's artillery — himself
undaunted and unharmed, though the
grape-shot rattled like hail-stones around
him. There, too, are Eylau, Borodino,
and Austerlitz, and there the mighty



1845.]



Alison's Uislory of Europe.



161



columns of France disappearing, one
after another, in the heavy sriow-driits
of Russia. These are vivid skctclies; so
also is the last interview of Bonaparte
with INielternich, before the latter joined
the allies. We see the bonfires kindled
along the Bohemian mountains, announc-
ing the joyful intelligence to the host that
lay encamped in the valley beyond. The
mad ride of Bonaparte to Paris, to save
the city that had already fallen into the
hands of the enemy, his uncontrollable
impetuosity that drove on his carriage
till the axletrees took fire, his fiery and
characteristic soliloquy on the way, are
all admirably drawn.

But the campaign in Egypt brings out
again his English sympathies, and his
statistics differ, of course, from those of
the French. So in the peninsular cam-
paign, he looks at the deeds and achieve-
ments of the English, through a magni-
fying glass of huge dimensions, and
at those of the French through the same
glass inverted. He may think, however,
he compensates for this by reversing the
process, when he surveys the numbers,
position, and comparative strength of the
two armies. This double method of
magnifying and dwindling, makes quite
a difierence in the impression conveyed
of this whole campaign. The same bias
of his judgment by his feelings, is ex-
hibited in his account of the battle of
Waterloo. No one but an Englishman
ever stood on that battle-field with the
map of it in his hand — and even the Eng-
lish account of it before him — without
being convinced, that but for the timely
arrival of Blucher, Wellington would
have been defeated. Yet Mr. Alison
declares that Bonaparte would have been
repulsed had not Blucher arrived, and all
that the latter accomplished was to con-
vert the defeat into a total rout. The
only fact he predicates this assertion on,
is the repulse of the imperial guard
before the junction of Blucher. But in
the first place, Bonaparte would not have
made that desperate charge at the time he
did, but for the approach of the Prussians.
It was done to force the English lines
and place himself between the two ar-
mies, that he might fight them separate, as
he did at Novi. If Grouchy had kept
Blucher in check, Bonaparte would have
soon broke down the already exhausted
English squares, and at a later moment
led on his fresh indomitable guard to
complete the victory. In the second
place, although the guard was routed,

11



they formed again into two immen.se
squares, and endeavored to hUiy the
reversed tide of battle, and if Blucher hjid
not been there with his fifty thousand
fresh trooj)s, Wellington could not have
followed up his success, and would have
been compelled to remain as he had done
all day, on the defensive. Wellington
himself, in his dispatches, says : " I
should not do justice to my feelings, or
to Marshal Blucher and the Prussian
army, if I did not attribute the successful
result of this arduous day to the cordial
and timely assistance 1 received from
them." (Wellington versus Ali.son.) Lf
there is one thing clear to the impartial
mind, when standing on that field, it is
that if Blucher had staid away, as did
Grouchy, or Grouchy came up, as did
Blucher, that Welliiigton would have
been utterly routed. It was a desperate
movement of the British general, to make
the stand he did, and he knew it, and no-
thing but unforeseen circumstances saved
him from ruin. The " stars" fought
against Bonaparte on that day ; his ca-
reer was run, and the hour of retribution
had come. But with the whole conti-
nental struggle we have nothing to do.
That Mr. Alison should often disagree



Online LibraryGeorge Hooker ColtonThe American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 1) → online text (page 30 of 124)