The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 13, No. 78, April, 1864 online

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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1864, by TICKNOR AND
FIELDS, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of

* * * * *


Young people are often charged with caring little for the past. The
charge is just; and the young are right. If they care little for the
past, then it is certain that it is in debt to them, - as for them the
past cared nothing. It is wonderful, considering how children used to be
treated, that the human race ever succeeded in getting established on
earth. Humanity should have died out, there was so little that was
humane in its bringing up. Because they had contrived to bring a
helpless creature into a world that every one wishes he had never known
at least twenty-four times a day, a father and mother of the very old
school indeed assumed that they had the right to make that creature a
slave, and to hold it in everlasting chains. They had much to say about
the duty of children, and very little about the love of parents. The
sacrificing of children to idols, a not uncommon practice in some
renowned countries of antiquity, the highest-born children being the
favorite victims, - for Moloch's appetite was delicate, - could never have
taken place in any country where the voice of Nature was heeded; and yet
those sacrifices were but so many proofs of the existence of a spirit of
pride, which caused men to offer up their offspring on the domestic
altar. Son and slave were almost the same word with the Romans; and your
genuine old Roman made little ado about cutting off the head of one of
his boys, perhaps for doing something of a praiseworthy nature. Old
Junius Brutus was doubly favored by Fortune, for he was enabled to kill
two of his sons in the name of Patriotism, and thereby to gain a
reputation for virtue that endures to this day, - though, after all, he
was but the first of the brutes. The Romans kept up the paternal rule
for many ages, and theoretically it long survived the Republic. It had
existed in the Kingdom, and it was not unknown to the Empire. We have an
anecdote that shows how strong was the supremacy of _paterfamilias_ at
the beginning of the eighth century, when Young Rome had already made
more than one audacious display of contempt for the Conscript Fathers.
When Pompeius was asked what he would do, if Cæsar should resist the
requirements of the Senate, he answered, - "What if my son should raise
his stick against me?" - meaning to imply, that, in his opinion,
resistance from Cæsar was something too absurd to be thought of. Yet
Cæsar _did_ resist, and triumphed; and, judging from their after-lives,
we should say that the Young Pompeys would have had small hesitation in
raising their sticks against their august governor, had he proved too
disobedient. A few years earlier, according to Sallust, a Roman, one
Fulvius, had caused his son to be put to death, because he had sought to
join Catiline. The old gentleman heard what his son was about, and when
Young Hopeful was arrested and brought before him, he availed himself of
his fatherly privilege, and had him strangled, or disposed of after some
other of those charming fashions which were so common in the model
republic of antiquity. "This imitation of the discipline of the ancient
republic," says Merivale, "excited neither applause nor indignation
among the languid voluptuaries of the Senate." They probably voted
Fulvius a brute, but they no more thought of questioning the legality of
his conduct than they did of imitating it. Law was one thing, opinion
another. If he liked to play Lucius Junius, well and good; but they had
no taste for the part. They felt much as we used to feel in
Fugitive-Slave-Law times: we did not question the law, but we would have
nothing to do with its execution.

Modern fathers have had no such powers as were held by those of Rome,
and if an Englishman of Red-Rose views had killed his son for setting
off to join Edward IV. when he had landed at Ravenspur, no one would
think of praising the act. What was all right in a Roman of the year 1
of the Republic would be considered shocking in a Christian of the
fifteenth century, a time when Christianity had become much diluted from
the inter-mixture of blood. In the next century, poor Lady Jane Grey
spoke of the torments which she had endured at the hands of her parents,
who were of the noblest blood of Europe, in terms that ought to make
every young woman thankful that her lot was not cast in the good old
times. Roger Ascham was her confidant. He had gone to Brodegate, to take
leave of her, and "found her in her chamber alone, reading Phædo
Platonis in Greek, and that with as much delight as some gentlemen would
read a merry tale of Boccace"; and as all the rest of the Greys were
hunting in the park, the schoolmaster inquired why she should lose such
pastime. The lady answered, that the pleasure they were having in the
park was but the shadow of that pleasure she found in Plato. The
conversation proceeding, Ascham inquired how it was that she had come to
know such true pleasure, and she answered, - "I will tell you, and tell
you a truth which perchance ye may marvel at. One of the greatest
benefits God ever gave me is that he sent me so sharp and severe parents
and so gentle a schoolmaster. For when I am in presence either of father
or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand, or go, eat, drink,
be merry, or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I
must do it as it were in such weight, number, and measure, even so
perfectly as God made the world, or else I am so sharply taunted, so
cruelly threatened, yea, presently, sometimes with pinches, nips, and
bobs, and other ways, (which I will not name for the honor I bear them,)
so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell, till time
come that I must go to Mr. Elmer, who teacheth me so gently, so
pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the
time nothing while I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall
on weeping, because whatsoever I do else beside learning is full of
grief, trouble, fear, and whole misliking unto me. And thus my book hath
been so much my pleasure, and bringeth daily more pleasure and more,
that in respect of it all other pleasures, in very deed, be but trifles
and troubles to me." The Duke and Duchess of Suffolk were neither better
nor worse than other parents who tormented and tyrannized over their
children _temp._ Edward VI., and nothing but the prominence of the most
unfortunate of their unfortunate daughters has preserved the memory of
their domestic despotism. Throughout all England it was the same, from
palace to castle, and from castle to hovel; and father and tyrant were
convertible terms. Youth must have been but a dreary time in those old
days. Scott's Sir Henry Lee, according to his son, kept strict rule over
his children, and he was a type of the antique knight, not of the
debauched cavalier, and would be obeyed, with or without reason. The
letters and the literature of the seventeenth century show, that, how
loose soever became other ties, parents maintained their hold on their
children with iron hands. Even the license of the Restoration left
fatherly rule largely triumphant and undisputed. When even "husbands, of
decent station, were not ashamed to beat their wives," sons and
daughters were not spoiled by a sparing of the rod. Harshness was the
rule in every grade of life, and harsh indeed was parental rule, until
the reader wonders that there was not a general rebellion of women,
children, scholars, and apprentices against the savage ascendency of
husbands, fathers, pedagogues, and masters.

But the fashions of this world, whether good or evil, pass away. In the
eighteenth century we find parents becoming more humane, though still
keeping their offspring pretty stiffly bitted. They shared in the
general melioration of the age. The father was "honored sir," and was
not too familiar with his boys. The great outbreak at the close of the
century did much for the emancipation of the young; and by the time that
the present century had advanced to a third of its years, youth had so
far got the best of the conflict, and treated their elders with so
little consideration, that it was thought the latter were rather
presumptuous in remaining on earth after fifty. Youth began to organize
itself. Young Germany, Young France, and Young England became powers in
the world. Young Germany was revolutionary and metaphysical, and
nourished itself on bad beer and worse tobacco. Young France was
full-bearded and decidedly dirty, and so far deferred to the past as to
look for models in '93; and it had a strong reverence for that antique
sentiment which exhibited itself in the assassination of kings. Young
England was gentlemanly and cleanly, its leaders being of the patrician
order; and it looked to the Middle Ages for patterns of conduct. Its
chiefs wore white waistcoats, gave red cloaks and broken meat to old
women, and would have lopped off three hundred years from Old England's
life, by pushing her back to the early days of Henry VIII., when the
religious houses flourished, and when the gallows was a perennial plant,
bearing fruit that was _not_ for the healing of the nations. Some of the
cleverest of the younger members of the aristocracy belonged to the new
organization, and a great genius wrote some delightful novels to show
their purpose, and to illustrate their manner of how-not-to-do-it in
grappling with the grand social questions of the age. In "Coningsby"
they sing canticles and carry about the boar's head; in "Sibyl" they
sing hymns to the Holy Virgin and the song of labor, and steal
title-deeds, after setting houses on fire to distract attention from
their immediate object; and in "Tancred" they go on pilgrimage to the
Holy Sepulchre, by way of reviving their faith. All this is so well
done, that Young England will survive in literature, and be the source
of edification, long after there shall be no more left of the dust of
its chiefs than there is of the dust of Cheops or Cæsar. For all these
youths are already vanished, leaving no more traces than you would find
of the flowers that bloomed in the days of their lives. Young Germany
went out immediately after the failure of the revolutionists of 1848-9.
Young France thought it had triumphed in the fall of the Orléans
monarchy, but had only taken the first long step toward making its own
fall complete; and now some of its early members are of the firmest
supporters of the new phase of imperialism, the only result of the
Revolution of February that has given signs of endurance. Young England
went out as soberly and steadily as it had lived. The select few who
composed it died like gentlemen, and were as polite as Lord Chesterfield
in the article of death. Some of them turned Whigs, and have held office
under Lord Palmerston; and others are Tories, and expect to hold office
under Lord Derby, when he shall form his third ministry. Young America,
the worst of these youths, and the latest born, was never above an
assassin in courage, or in energy equal to more than the plundering of a
hen-roost. The fruits of his exertions are to be seen in some of the
incidents of the Secession War, and they were not worth the gathering.

The world had settled down into the belief, that, after all, a man was
not much to be blamed for growing old, and liberal-minded people were
fast coming to the conclusion, that years, on the whole, were not
dishonorable, when the breaking out of a great war led to the return of
youth to consideration. The English found themselves at war with Russia,
much to their surprise; and, still more to their surprise, their part in
that war was made subordinate to that of the French, who acted with
them, in the world's estimate of the deeds of the members of the new
Grand Alliance. This is not the place to discuss the question whether
that estimate was a just one. We have to do only with the facts that
England was made to stand in the background and that she seemed at first
disposed to accept the general verdict. There was, too, much
mismanagement in the conduct of the war, some of which might easily have
been avoided; and there was not a little suffering, as the consequence
of that mismanagement. John Bull must have his scape-goat, like the rest
of us; and, looking over the field, he discovered that all his leaders
were old men, and forthwith, though the oldest of old fellows himself,
he laid all his mishaps to the account of the years of his upper
servants. Sir Charles Napier, who never got into St. Petersburg, was
old, and had been a dashing sailor forty years before. Admiral Dundas,
who did not destroy Sweaborg, but only burned a lot of corded wood there
in summer time, was another old sailor. Lord Raglan, who never saw the
inside of Sebastopol, was well stricken in years, having served in
Wellington's military family during the Peninsular War. General Simpson,
Sir C. Campbell, General Codrington, Sir G. Brown, Sir G. Cathcart, and
others of the leaders of the English army in the Crimea, were of the
class of gentlemen who might, upon meeting, furnish matter for a
paragraph on "united ages." What more natural than to attribute all that
was unpleasant in the war to the stagnated blood of men who had heard
the music of that musketry before which Napoleon I.'s empire had gone
down? The world went mad on the subject, and it was voted that old
generals were nuisances, and that no man had any business in active war
who was old enough to have much experience. Age might be venerable, but
it was necessarily weak; and the last place in which it should show
itself was the field.

It was not strange that the English should have come to the conclusion
that the fogies were unfit to lead armies. They were in want of an
excuse for their apparent failure in the war, and they took the part
that was suggested to them, - therein behaving no worse than ourselves,
who have accounted for our many reverses in many foolish and
contradictory ways. But it was strange that their view was accepted by
others, whose minds were undisturbed, because unmistified, - and
accepted, too, in face of the self-evident fact that almost every man
who figured in the war was old. Maréchal Pelissier,[A] to whom the chief
honor of the contest has been conceded, was but six years the junior of
Lord Raglan; and if the Englishman's sixty-six years are to count
against age in war, why should not the Frenchman's sixty years count for
it? Prince Gortschakoff, who defended Sebastopol so heroically, was but
four years younger than Lord Raglan; and Prince Paskevitch was more than
six years his senior. Muravieff, Menschikoff, Luders, and other Russian
commanders opposed to the Allies, were all old men, all past sixty years
when the war began. Prince Menschikoff was sixty-four when he went on
his famous mission to Constantinople, and he did not grow younger in the
eighteen months that followed, and at the end of which he fought and
lost the Battle of the Alma. The Russian war was an old man's war, and
the stubbornness with which it was waged had in it much of that ugliness
which belongs to age.

"The young man's wrath is like light straw on fire.
But like red-hot steel is the old man's ire."

What rendered the attacks that were made on old generals in 1854-6 the
more absurd was the fact, that the English called upon an old man to
relieve them from bad government, and were backed by other nations. Lord
Palmerston, upon whom all thoughts and all eyes were directed, was older
than any one of those generals to whose years Englishmen attributed
their country's failure. When, with the all but universal approbation of
Great Britain and her friends, he became Prime-Minister, he was in his
seventy-first year, and his action showed that his natural force was not
abated. He was called to play the part of the elder Pitt at a greater
age than Pitt reached; and he did not disappoint expectation. It is
strange indeed, considering that the Premiership was a more difficult
post to fill than that held by any English general, that the English
should rely upon the oldest of their active statesmen to retrieve their
fortunes, while they were condemning as unfit for service men who were
his juniors by several years.

In truth, the position that youth is necessary to success in war is not
sustained by military history. It may he no drawback to a soldier's
excellence that he is young, but it is equally true that an old man may
possess every quality that is necessary in a soldier who would serve his
country well and win immortal fame for himself. The best of the Greek
commanders were men in advanced life, with a few exceptions. The precise
age of Miltiades at Marathon is unproven; but as he had become a noted
character almost thirty years before the date of that most memorable of
battles, he must have been old when he fought and won it. Even
Alcibiades, with whom is associated the idea of youth through his whole
career, as if Time had stood still in his behalf, did not have a great
command until he was approaching to middle age; and it was not until
some years more had expired that he won victories for the Athenians. The
date of the birth of Epaminondas - the best public man of all antiquity,
and the best soldier of Greece - cannot be fixed; but we find him a
middle-aged man when first he appears on that stage on which he
performed so pure and brilliant a part through seventeen eventful years.
Eight years after he first came forward he won the Battle of Leuctra,
which shattered the Spartan supremacy forever, and was the most perfect
specimen of scientific fighting that is to be found in classical
history, and which some of the greatest of modern commanders have been
proud merely to imitate. After that action, but not immediately after
it, he invaded the Peloponnesus, and led his forces to the vicinity of
Sparta, and then effected a revolution that bridled that power
perpetually. Nine years after Leuctra he won the Battle of Mantinea,
dying on the field. He must then have been an old man, but the last of
his campaigns was a miracle of military skill in all respects; and the
effect of his death was the greatest that ever followed the fall of a
general on a victorious field, actually turning victory into defeat. The
Spartan king, Agesilaus II., who was a not unworthy antagonist of the
great Theban, was an old man, and was over seventy when he saved Sparta
solely through his skill as a soldier and his energy as a statesman. As
a rule, the Greeks, the most intellectual of all races, were averse to
the employment of young men in high offices. The Spartan Brasidas, if it
be true that he fell in the flower of his age, as the historian asserts,
may have been a young man at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, in
which he was eminently distinguished; but it was his good fortune to be
singularly favored by circumstances on more than one occasion, and his
whole career was eminently exceptional to the general current of
Hellenic life.

The Romans, though not braver than the Greeks, were more fortunate in
their military career than the stayers of the march of Persia. Like the
Greeks, they had but few young generals of much reputation. Most of
their conquests, and, indeed, the salvation of their country, were the
work of old leaders. The grand crisis of Rome was in the years that
followed the arrival of Hannibal in Italy; and the two men who did most
to baffle the invader were Fabius and Marcellus, who were called,
respectively, Rome's shield and sword. They were both old men, though
Marcellus may have been looked upon as young in comparison with Fabius,
who was upward of seventy, and who, eight years after his memorable
pro-dictatorship, retook Tarentum and baffled Hannibal. The old
_Lingerer_ was, at eighty, too clever, slow as they thought him at Rome,
to be "taken in" by Hannibal, who had prepared a nice trap for him, into
which he would not walk. Marcellus was about fifty-two when he was
pitted against the victor of Cannæ, and he met him on various occasions,
and sometimes with striking success. At the age of fifty-six he took
Syracuse, after one of the most memorable of sieges, in which he had
Archimedes for an opponent. At sixty he was killed in a skirmish,
leaving the most brilliant military name of the republican times, so
highly are valor and energy rated, though in the higher qualities of
generalship he was inferior to men whose names are hardly known.
Undoubtedly, Mommsen is right when he says that Rome was saved by the
Roman system, and not by the labors of this man or that; but it is
something for a country to have men who know how to work under its
system, and in accordance with its requirements; and such men were
Fabius and Marcellus, the latter old enough to be Hannibal's father,
while the former was the contemporary of his grandfather.

The turning point in the Second Punic War was the siege of Capua by the
Romans. That siege Hannibal sought by all means in his power to raise,
well knowing, that, if the Campanian city should fall, he could never
hope to become master of Italy. He marched to Rome in the expectation of
compelling the besiegers to hasten to its defence; but without effect.
Two old Romans commanded the beleaguering army, and while one of them,
Q. Fulvius, hastened home with a small force, the other, Appius
Claudius, carried on the siege. Hannibal had to retreat, and Capua fell,
the effect of the tenacity with which ancient generals held on to their
prey. Had they been less firm, the course of history would have been
changed. At a later period of the war, Rome was saved from great danger,
if not from destruction, by the victory of the Metaurus, won by M.
Livius Salinator and C. Claudius Nero. Nero was an elderly man, having
been conspicuous for some years, and the consular age being forty. His
colleague was a very old man, having been consul before the war began,
and having long lived in retirement, because he had been unjustly
treated. The Romans now forced him to take office, against his wish,
though his actions and his language were of the most insulting
character. A great union of parties had taken place, for Hasdrubal was
marching to Italy, for the purpose of effecting a junction with his
brother Hannibal, and it was felt that nothing short of perfect union
could save the State. The State was saved, the two old consuls acting
together, and defeating and slaying Hasdrubal in the last great battle
of the war that was fought in Italy. The old fogies were too much for
their foe, a much younger man than either of them, and a soldier of high

It must be admitted, however, that the Second Punic War is fairly
quotable by those who insist upon the superiority of youthful generals
over old ones, for the two greatest men who appeared in it were young
leaders, - Hannibal, and Publius Cornelius Scipio, the first Africanus.
No man has ever exceeded Hannibal in genius for war. He was one of the
greatest statesmen that ever lived, and he was so because he was the
greatest of soldiers. He might have won pitched battles as a mere
general, but it was his statesmanship that enabled him to contend for
sixteen years against Rome, in Italy, though Rome was aided by
Carthaginian copperheads. But, though a young general, Hannibal was an
old soldier when he led his army from the Ebro to the Trebia, as the
avenging agent of his country's gods. His military as well as his moral
training began in childhood; and when his father, Hamilcar Barcas,[B]
was killed, Hannibal, though but eighteen, was of established reputation
in the Carthaginian service. Eight years later he took the place which
his father and brother-in-law had held, called to it by the voice of the
army. During those eight years he had been constantly employed, and he
brought to the command an amount and variety of experience such as it
has seldom been the lot of even old generals to acquire. Years brought
no decay to his faculties, and we have the word of his successful foe,
that at Zama, when he was forty-five, he showed as much skill as he had
displayed at Cannæ, when he was but thirty-one. Long afterward, when an
exile in the East, his powers of mind shine as brightly as they did when

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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 13, No. 78, April, 1864 → online text (page 1 of 20)