Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine — Volume 56, No. 345, July, 1844 online

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abundance in the French legislature and the journals; but with this
unsubstantial evidence the cabinet could not meet the country.
Couriers were sent in all directions; boats were stationed along the
coast to bring the first intelligence of actual hostilities suddenly;
every conceivable expedient was adopted; but all in vain. The day of
opening the Session was within twenty-four hours. After lingering
hour by hour, in expectancy of the arrival of despatches from our
ambassador at the Hague, I offered to cross the sea in the first
fishing-boat which I could find, and ascertain the facts. My offer
was accepted; and in the twilight of a winter's morning, and in the
midst of a snow-storm, I was making my shivering way homeward through
the wretched lanes which, dark as pitch and narrow as footpaths, then
led to the centre of the diplomatic world; when, in my haste, I had
nearly overset a meagre figure, which, half-blinded by the storm, was
tottering towards the Foreign office. After a growl, in the most
angry jargon, the man recognized me; he was the clerk whom I had seen
at Mordecai's house. He had, but an hour before, received, by one of
the private couriers of the firm, a letter, with orders to deliver it
with all expedition. He put it into my hand: it was not from
Mordecai, but from Elnathan, and was simply in these words: - "My
kinsman and your friend has desired me to forward to you the first
intelligence of hostilities. I send you a copy of the bulletin which
will be issued at noon this day. It is yet unknown; but I have it
from a source on which you may perfectly rely. Of this make what use
you think advantageous. Your well-wisher."

With what pangs the great money-trafficker must have consigned to my
use a piece of intelligence which must have been a mine of wealth to
any one who carried it first to the Stock Exchange, I could easily
conjecture. But I saw in it the powerful pressure of Mordecai, which
none of his tribe seemed even to have the means of resisting. My
sensations were singular enough as I traced my way up the dark and
lumbering staircase of the Foreign office; with the consciousness
that, if I had chosen to turn my steps in another direction, I might
before night be master of thousands, or of hundreds of thousands. But
it is only due to the sense of honour which had been impressed on me,
even in the riot and roughness of my Eton days, to say, that I did
not hesitate for a moment Sending one of the attendants to arouse the
chief clerk, I stood waiting his arrival with the bulletin unopened
in my hands. The official had gone to his house in the country, and
might not return for some hours. My perplexity increased. Every
moment might supersede the value of my priority. At length a
twinkling light through the chinks of one of the dilapidated doors,
told me that there was some one within, from whom I might, at least,
ask when and how ministers were to be approached. The door was
opened, and, to my surprise, I found that the occupant of the chamber
was one of the most influential members of administration. My name
and purpose were easily given; and I was received as I believe few
are in the habit of being received by the disposers of high things in
high places. The fire had sunk to embers, the lamp was dull, and the
hearer was half frozen and half asleep. Yet no sooner had he cast his
eyes upon the mysterious paper which I gave into his grasp, than all
his faculties were in full activity.

"This," said he, "is the most important paper that has reached this
country since the taking of the Bastile. THE SCHELDT IS OPENED! This
involves an attack on Holland; the defence of our ally is a matter of
treaty, and we must arm without delay. The war is begun, but where it
shall end" - he paused, and fixing his eyes above, with a solemnity of
expression which I had not expected in the stern and hard-lined
countenance, "or who shall live to see its close - who shall tell?"

"We have been waiting," said he, "for this intelligence from week to
week, with the fullest expectation that it would come; and yet, when
it has come, it strikes like a thunderclap. This is the third night
that I have sat in this hovel, at this table, unable to go to rest,
and looking for the despatch from hour to hour. - You see, sir, that
our life is at least not the bed of roses for which the world is so
apt to give us credit. It is like the life of my own hills - the
higher the sheiling stands, the more it gets of the blast."

I do not give the name of this remarkable man. He was a Scot, and
possessed of all the best characteristics of his country. I had heard
him in Parliament, where he was the most powerful second of the most
powerful first that England had seen. But if all men were inferior to
the prime minister in majesty and fulness of conception, the man to
whom I now listened had no superior in readiness of retort, in
aptness of illustration - that mixture of sport and satire, of easy
jest and subtle sarcasm, which forms the happiest talent for the
miscellaneous uses of debate. If Pitt moved forward like the armed
man of chivalry, or rather like the main body of the battle - for
never man was more entitled to the appellation of a "host in
himself" - never were front, flanks, and rear of the host covered by a
more rapid, quick-witted, and indefatigable auxiliary. He was a man
of family, and brought with him into public life, not the manners of
a menial of office, but the bearing of a gentleman. Birth and blood
were in his bold and manly countenance; and I could have felt no
difficulty in conceiving him, if his course had followed his nature,
the chieftain on his hills, at the head of his gallant retainers,
pursuing the wild sports of his romantic region; or in some foreign
land, gathering the laurels which the Scotch soldier has so often and
so proudly added to the honours of the empire.

He was perfectly familiar with the great question of the time, and
saw the full bearings of my intelligence with admirable sagacity;
pointed out the inevitable results of suffering France to take upon
herself the arbitration of Europe, and gave new and powerful views of
the higher relation in which England was to stand, as the general
protectress of the Continent. "This bulletin," said he, "announces
the fact, that a French squadron has actually sailed up the Scheldt
to attack Antwerp. Yet it was not ten years since France protested
against the same act by Austria, as a violation of the rights of
Holland. The new aggression is, therefore, not simply a solitary
violence, but a vast fraud; not merely the breach of an individual
treaty, but a declaration that no treaty is henceforth to be held as
binding; it is more than an act of rapine; it is an universal
dissolution of the principles by which society is held together. In
what times are we about to live?"

My reply was - "That it depended on the spirit of England herself,
whether the conflict was to be followed by honour or by shame; that
she had a glorious career before her, if she had magnanimity
sufficient to take the part marked out for her by circumstances; and
that, with the championship of the world in her hands, even defeat
would be a triumph."

He now turned the conversation to myself; spoke with more than
official civility of my services, and peculiarly of the immediate
one; and asked in what branch of diplomacy I desired advancement?

My answer was prompt. "In none. I desired promotion but in one
way - the army." I then briefly stated the accidental loss of my
original appointment, and received, before I left the chamber, a note
for the secretary at war, recommending me, in the strongest terms,
for a commission in the Guards. - The world was now before me, and the
world in the most vivid, various, and dazzling shape; in the boldest
development of grandeur, terror, and wild vicissitude, which it
exhibited for a thousand years - ENGLAND WAS AT WAR!

There is no sight on earth more singular, or more awful, than a great
nation going to war. I saw the scene in its highest point of view, by
seeing it in England. Its perfect freedom, its infinite, and often
conflicting, variety of opinion - its passionate excitement, and its
stupendous power, gave the summons to hostilities a character of
interest, of grandeur, and of indefinite but vast purposes,
unexampled in any other time, or in any other country. When one of
the old monarchies commenced war, the operation, however large and
formidable, was simple. A monarch resolved, a council sat, less to
guide than to echo his resolution; an army marched, invaded the
enemy's territory, fought a battle - perhaps a dubious one - rested on
its arms; and while _Te Deum_ was sung in both capitals alike for the
"victory" of neither, the ministers of both were constructing an
armistice, a negotiation, and a peace - each and all to be null and
void on the first opportunity.

But the war of England was a war of the nation - a war of wrath and
indignation - a war of the dangers of civilized society entrusted to a
single championship - a great effort of human nature to discharge, in
the shape of blood, a disease which was sapping the vitals of Europe;
or in a still higher, and therefore a more faithful view, the
gathering of a tempest, which, after sweeping France in its fury, was
to restore the exhausted soil and blasted vegetation of monarchy
throughout the Continent; and in whose highest, England, serene and
undismayed, was to

"Ride in the whirlwind, and direct the storm."

I must acknowledge, that I looked upon the coming conflict with a
strange sense of mingled alarm and rejoicing. For the latter feeling,
perhaps I ought to make some apology; but I was young, ardent, and
ambitious. My place in life was unfixed; standing in that unhappy
middle position, in which stands a man of birth too high to suffer
his adoption of the humbler means of existence, and yet of resources
too inadequate to sustain him without action - nay, bold and
indefatigable exertion. I, at the moment, felt a very inferior degree
of compunction at the crisis which offered to give me at least a
chance of being seen, known, and understood among men. I felt like a
man whose ship was stranded, and who saw the storm lifting the surges
that were to lift him along with them; or like the traveller in an
earthquake, who saw the cleft in the ground swallowing up the river
which had hitherto presented an impassable obstacle - cities and
mountains might sink before the concussion had done its irresistible
will, but, at all events, it had cleared his way.

In thoughts like these, rash and unconnected as they were, I spent
many a restless day, and still more restless night. I often sprang
from a pillow which, if I had lived in the days of witchcraft, I
should have thought spelled to refuse me sleep; and walking for
hours, endeavoured to reduce into shape the speculations which filled
my mind with splendours and catastrophes worthy of oriental dreams.
Why did I not then pursue the career in which I had begun the world?
Why not devote myself to diplomacy, in which I had hitherto received
honour? Why not enter into Parliament, which opened all the secrets
of power? For this I had two reasons. The first - and, let me confess,
the most imperious - was, that my pride had been deeply hurt by the
loss of my commission. I felt that I had not only been deprived of a
noble profession, accidental as was the loss; but that I had
subjected myself to the trivial, but stinging remarks, which never
fail to find an obnoxious cause for every failure. While this cloud
hung over me, I was determined never to return to my father's house.
Good-natured as the friends of my family might be, I was fully aware
of the style in which misfortune is treated in the idleness of
country life; and the Honourable Mr Marston's loss of his rank in his
Majesty's guards, or his preference of a more pacific promotion, was
too tempting a topic to lose any of its stimulants by the popular
ignorance of the true transaction. My next reason was, that my mind
was harassed and wearied by disappointment, until I should not have
regreted to terminate the struggle in the first field of battle. The
only woman whom I loved, and whom, in the strange frenzy of passion,
I solemnly believed to be the only woman on earth deserving to be so
loved, had wholly disappeared, and was, by this time, probably
wedded. The only woman whom I regarded as a friend, was in another
country, probably dying. If I could have returned to Mortimer
Castle - which I had already determined to be impossible - I should
have found only a callous, perhaps a contemptuous, head of the
family, angry at my return to burden him. Even Vincent - my old and
kind-hearted friend Vincent - had been a soldier; and though I was
sure of never receiving a reproach from his wise and gentle lips, was
I equally sure that I could escape the flash, or the sorrow, of his

In thoughts like these, and they were dangerous ones, I made many a
solitary rush out into the wild winds and beating snows of the
winter, which had set in early and been remarkably severe; walking
bareheaded in the most lonely places of the suburbs, stripping my
bosom to the blast, and longing for its tenfold chill to assuage the
fever which burned within me. I had also found the old delay at the
Horse-guards. The feelings of this period make me look with infinite
compassion on the unhappy beings who take their lives into their own
hands, and who extinguish all their earthly anxieties at a plunge.
But I had imbibed principles of a firmer substance, and but upon one
occasion, and one alone, felt tempted to an act of despair.

Taking my lonely dinner in a tavern of the suburbs, the waiter handed
me a newspaper, which he had rescued for my behoof from the hands of
a group, eager, as all the world then was, for French intelligence.
My eye rambled into the fashionable column; and the first paragraph,
headed "Marriage in high life," announced that, on the morrow, were
to be solemnized the nuptials of Clotilde, Countess de Tourville,
with the Marquis de Montrecour, colonel of the French Mousquetaires,
&c. The paper dropped from my hands. I rushed out of the house; and,
scarcely knowing where I went, I hurried on, until I found myself out
of the sight or sound of mortal. The night was pitch-dark; there was
no lamp near; the wind roared; and it was only by the flash of the
foam that I discovered the broad sheet of water before me. I had
strayed into Hyde Park, and was on the bank of the Serpentine. With
what ease might I not finish all! It was another step. Life was a
burden - thought was a torment - the light of day a loathing. But the
paroxysm soon gave way. Impressions of the duty and the trials of
human nature, made in earlier years, revived within me with a
singular freshness and force. Tears gushed from my eyes, fast and
flowing; and, with a long-forgotten prayer for patience and humility,
I turned from the place of temptation. As I reached the streets once
more, I heard the trumpets of the Life Guards, and the band of a
battalion returning to their quarters. The infantry were the
Coldstream. They had been lining the streets for the king's
procession to open the sitting of Parliament. This was the 13th of
December - the memorable day to which every heart in Europe was more
or less vibrating; yet which I had totally forgotten. What is man but
an electrical machine after all? The sound and sight of soldiership
restored me to the full vividness of my nature. The machine required
only to be touched, to shoot out its latent sparks; and with a new
spirit and a new determination kindling through every fibre, I
hastened to be present at that debate which was to be the judgment of

My official intercourse with ministers had given me some privileges,
and I obtained a seat under the gallery - that part of the House of
Commons which is occasionally allotted to strangers of a certain
rank. The House was crowded, and every countenance was pictured with
interest and solemn anxiety. Grey, Sheridan, and other distinguished
names of party, had already taken their seats; but the great heads of
Government and Opposition were still absent. At length a buzz among
the crowd who filled the floor, - and the name of Fox repeated in
every tone of congratulation, announced the pre-eminent orator of
England. I now saw Fox for the first time; and I was instantly struck
with the incomparable similitude of all that I saw of him to all that
I had conceived from his character and his style. In the broad bold
forehead, the strong sense - in the relaxed mouth, the self-indulgent
and reckless enjoyment - in the quick, small eye under those
magnificent black brows, the man of sagacity, of sarcasm, and of
humour; and in the grand contour of a countenance and head, which
might have been sculptured to take its place among the sages and
sovereigns of antiquity, the living proof of those extraordinary
powers, which could have been checked in their ascent to the highest
elevation of public life, only by prejudices and passions not less
extraordinary. As he advanced up the House, he recognized every one
on both sides, and spoke or smiled to nearly all. He stopped once or
twice in his way, and was surrounded by a circle with whom, as I
could judge from their laughter, he exchanged some pleasantry of the
hour. When at length he arrived at the seat which had been reserved
for him, he threw himself upon it with the easy look of comfort of a
man who had reached home - gave nod to Windham, held out a finger to
Grey, warmly shook hands with Sheridan; and then, opening his
well-known blue and buff costume, threw himself back into the bench,
and laughingly gasped for air.

But another movement of the crowd at the bar announced another
arrival, and Pitt entered the House. His look and movement were
equally characteristic with those of his great rival. He looked to
neither the right nor the left; replied to the salutations of his
friends by the slightest possible bow; neither spoke nor smiled; but,
slowly advancing, took his seat in total silence. The Speaker,
hitherto occupied with some routine business, now read the King's
speech, and, calling on "Mr Pitt," the minister rose. I have for that
rising but one description - the one which filled my memory at the
moment, from the noblest poet of the world.

"Deep on his front engraven,
Deliberation sat, and public care.
Sage he stood,
With Atlantean shoulders, fit to bear
The weight of mightiest monarchies. His look
Drew audience and attention, still as night,
Or summer's noontide air."


The week ending the 8th of June, was the most brilliant that ever
occupied and captivated the fashionable world of a metropolis of two
millions of souls, the head of an empire of two hundred millions. The
recollection runs us out of breath. Every hour was a new summons to a
new _fête_, a new fantasy, or a new exhibition of the handsomest man
of the forty-two millions of Russia proper. The toilettes of the
whole _beau monde_ were in activity from sunny morn to dewy eve; and
from dewy eve to waxlighted midnight. A parade of the Guards, by
which the world was tempted into rising at ten o'clock; a _dejeuner à
la fourchette_, by which it was surprised into _dining_ at three,
(_more majorum;_) an opera, by which those whose hour for going out
is eleven, were forced into their carriages at nine; a concert at
Hanover Square, finished by a ball and supper at Buckingham
palace; - all were among those brilliant perversions of the habits of
high life which make the week one brilliant tumult; but which never
could have been revolutionized but by an emperor in the flower of his
age. Wherever he moved, he was followed by a host of the fair and
fashionable. The showy equipages of the nobility were in perpetual
motion. The parks were a whirlwind of horsemen and horsewomen. The
streets were a levy _en masse_ of the peerage. The opera-house was a
gilded "black hole of Calcutta." The front of Buckingham palace was a
scene of loyalty, dangerous to life and limb; men, careful of either,
gave their shillings for a glimpse through a telescope; and
shortsighted ladies fainted, that they might be carried into houses
which gave then a full view. Mivart's, the retreat of princes, had
the bustle of a Bond Street hotel. Ashburnham House was in a state of
siege. And Buckingham palace, with its guards, cavalcades, musterings
of the multitude, and thundering of brass bands, seemed to be the
focus of a national revolution. But it was within the palace that the
grand display existed. The gilt candelabra, the gold plate, the maids
of honour, all fresh as tares in June; and the ladies in waiting, all
Junos and Minervas, all jewelled, and none under forty-five,
enraptured the mortal eye, to a degree unrivalled in the
recollections of the oldest courtier, and unrecorded in the annals of
queenly hospitality.

But we must descend to the world again; we must, as the poet said,

"Bridle in our struggling muse with pain,
That longs to launch into a nobler strain."

We bid farewell to a description of the indescribable.

During this week, but one question was asked by the universal world
of St James's - "What was the cause of the Czar's coming?"

Every one answered in his own style. The tourists - a race who cannot
live without rambling through the same continental roads, which they
libel for their roughness every year; the same hotels, which they
libel for their discomforts; and the same _table-d'hotes_, which they
libel as the perfection of bad cookery, and barefaced
_chicane_ - pronounced that the love of travel was the imperial
impulse. The politicians of the clubs - who, having nothing to do for
themselves, manage the affairs of all nations, and can discover high
treason in the manipulation of a toothpick, and symptoms of war in a
waltz - were of opinion, that the Czar had come either to construct an
European league against the marriage of little Queen Isabella, or to
beat up for recruits for the "holy" hostilities of Morocco. With the
fashionable world, the decision was, that he had come to see Ascot
races, and the Duke of Devonshire's gardens, before the sun withered,
or St Swithin washed them away. The John Bull world - as wise at least
as any of their betters, who love a holiday, and think Whitsuntide
the happiest period of the year for that reason, and Greenwich hill
the finest spot in creation - were convinced that his Majesty's visit
was merely that of a good-humoured and active gentleman, glad to
escape from the troubles of royalty and the heaviness of home, and
take a week's ramble among the oddities of England. "Who shall
decide," says Pope, "when doctors disagree?" Perhaps the nearest way
of reaching the truth is, to take all the reasons together, and try
how far they may be made to agree. What can be more probable than
that the fineness of the finest season within memory, the occurrence
of a moment of leisure in the life of a monarch ruling a fifth of the
habitable globe, roused the curiosity of an intelligent mind,
excited, like that of his great ancestor Peter, by a wish to see the
national improvements of the great country of engineering,
shipbuilding, and tunnelling; perhaps with Ascot races - the most
showy exhibition of the most beautiful horses in the world - to wind
up the display, might tempt a man of vigorous frame and active
spirit, to gallop across Europe, and give seven brief days to

An additional conjecture has been proposed by the papers presumed to
be best informed in cabinet secrets; that this rapid journey has had
for its distinct purpose the expression of the Imperial scorn for the
miserable folly and malignant coxcombry of the pamphlet on the French
navy; which has excited so much contempt in England, and so much
boasting in France, and so much surprise and ridicule every where
else in Europe. Nothing could be more in consonance with a manly
character, than to show how little it shared the conceptions of a
coxcomb; and no more direct mode could be adopted than the visit, to
prove his willingness to be on the best terms with her government and
her people. We readily receive this conjecture, because it impresses
a higher character on the whole transaction; it belongs to an
advanced spirit of royal intercourse, and it constitutes an important
pledge for that European peace, which is the greatest benefaction
capable of being conferred by kings.

The Emperor may be said to have come direct from St Petersburg, as
his stops on the road were only momentary. He reached Berlin from his

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Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine — Volume 56, No. 345, July, 1844 → online text (page 19 of 20)