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actions are rendered more perfect only through the instrumentality
of his trunk How far he is superior in general sagacity, that is, in
reasoning from cause to effect, and in adapting ways and means to
an end, the reader will be enabled to decide from the subjoined
anecdotes. And here it will be observed, that we distinguish between



docility and sagacity ; for although the former should be most
apparent where the latter quality predominates, yet may animals,
such as even the pig, be taught by force of habit to perform many
astonishing feats, when they are avowedly destitute of general

The following, given on the authority of the Rev. Robert Gaunter,
seems to be a purely deliberative act ; and that, be it observed, by
the animal when in a wild state, and perfectly unacquainted with
the devices of human training : ' A small body of sepoys stationed
at an outpost Fort de Galle, in Ceylon to protect a granary con-
taining a large quantity of rice, was suddenly removed, in order to
quiet some unruly villagers, a few miles distant, who had set our
authorities at defiance. Two of our party happened to be on the
spot at the moment. No sooner had the sepoys withdrawn, than a
herd of wild elephants, which had been long noticed in the neigh-
bourhood, made their appearance in front of the granary. They
had been preceded by a scout, which returned to the herd, and
having no doubt satisfied them, in a language which to them needed
no interpreter, that the coast was clear, they advanced at a brisk
pace towards the building. When they arrived within a few yards
of it, quite in martial order, they made a sudden stand, and began
deliberately to reconnoitre the object of their attack Nothing
could be more wary and methodical than their proceedings. The
walls of the granary were of solid brickwork, very thick ; and the
only opening into the building was in the centre of the terraced roof,
to which the ascent was by a ladder. On the approach of the
elephants, the two astonished spectators clambered up into a lofty
banyan-tree, in order to escape mischief. The conduct of the four-
footed besiegers was such as strongly to excite their curiosity, and
they therefore watched their proceedings with intense anxiety. The
two spectators were so completely screened by the foliage of the
tree to which they had resorted for safety, that they could not be
perceived by the elephants, though they could see very well through
the little vistas formed by the separated branches what was going
on below. Had there been a door to the granary, all difficulty of
obtaining an entrance would have instantly vanished ; but four
thick brick walls were obstacles which seemed at once to defy both
the strength and sagacity of these dumb robbers. Nothing daunted
by the magnitude of the difficulty which they had to surmount, they
successively began their operations at the angles of the building. A
large male elephant, with tusks of immense proportions, laboured
for some time to make an impression ; but after a while, his strength
was exhausted, and he retired. The next in size and strength then
advanced, and exhausted his exertions, with no better success. A
third then came fonvard, and applying those tremendous levers with
which his jaws were armed, and which he wielded with such prodi-
gious might, he at length succeeded in dislodging a brick. An


opening once made, other elephants advanced, when an entrance
was soon obtained, sufficiently large to admit the determined
marauders. As the whole herd could not be accommodated at once,
they divided into small bodies of three or four. One of them
entered, and when they had taken their fill, they retired, and their
places were immediately supplied by the next in waiting, until the
whole herd, upwards of twenty, had made a full meal. By this time
a shrill sound was heard from one of the elephants, which was readily
understood, when those that were still in the building immediately
rushed out, and joined their companions. One of the first division,
after retiring from the granary, had acted as sentinel while the rest
were enjoying the fruits of their sagacity and perseverance. He had
so stationed himself as to be enabled to observe the advance of an
enemy from any quarter, and upon perceiving the troops as they
returned from the village, he sounded the signal of retreat, when the
whole herd, flourishing their trunks, moved rapidly into the jungle.
The soldiers, on their return, found that the animals had devoured
the greater part of the rice. A ball from a field-piece was dis-
charged at them in their retreat ; but they only wagged their tails,
as if in mockery, and soon disappeared in the recesses of their
native forests.'

In general, the elephant makes less use of his strength than his
address, often applying the most dexterous methods of accomplish-
ing his ends. ' I was one day,' says Jesse in his Gleanings in Natural
History, ' feeding the poor elephant (who was so barbarously put to
death at Exeter 'Change) with potatoes, which he took out of my
hand. One of them, a round one, fell on the floor, just out of the
reach of his proboscis. He leaned against his wooden bar, put out
his trunk, and could just touch the potato, but could not pick it up.
After several ineffectual efforts, he at last blew the potato against
the opposite wall with sufficient force to make it rebound, and he
then without difficulty secured it.' M. Phillipe, quoted by Buffon,
was an eye-witness to the following equally wonderful facts : He
one day went to the river at Goa, near which place a large ship was
building, and where an area was filled with beams and planks for
the purpose. Some men tied the ends of heavy beams with a rope,
which was handed to an elephant, who carried it to his mouth, and
after twisting it round his trunk, drew it, without any conductor, to
the place where the ship was building. One of the animals some-
times drew beams so large, that more than twenty men would have
been necessary to move them. But what surprised M. Phillipe most
was, that when other beams obstructed the road, this elephant raised
the ends of his own beam, or edged it forwards, as the case might
be, that it might clear those which lay in his way. Could the most
enlightened man have done more ?

At Mahe", on the coast of Malabar, M. Toreesa tells he had an
opportunity of admiring the sagacity of an elephant displayed in a



similar manner. Its master had let it for a certain sum per day ;
and its employment was to carry with its trunk timber for a building
out of the river. This business it despatched very dexterously, under
the command of a boy ; and afterwards laid the pieces one upon
another in such exact order, that no man could have done it better.
Again, it is remarked by Terry, in his voyage to the East Indies,
' that the elephant performs many actions which would seem almost
the effect of human reason. He does everything his master com-
mands. If he is directed to terrify any person, he runs upon him
with every appearance of fury, and when he comes near, stops short
without doing him the least injury. When the master chooses to
affront any one, he tells the elephant, who collects water and mud
with his trunk, and squirts it upon the object pointed out to him.'
Indeed, the same intelligence regulates him in the performance of
his multifarious duties in the East be these carriage of persons,
goods, or baggage, the dragging of artillery, the piling up of wares,
or the loading of boats. ' To give an idea of these labours/ says
Bingley, ' it is sufficient to remark, that all the tuns, sacks, and
bales transported from one place to another in India, are carried
by elephants ; that they carry burdens on their bodies, their necks,
their tusks, and even in their mouths, by giving them the end of a
rope, which they hold fast with their teeth ; that, uniting sagacity
to strength, they never break or injure anything committed to their
charge ; that from the banks of the rivers they put these bundles
into boats, without wetting them, laying them down gently, and
arranging them where they ought to be placed ; that when disposed
in the places where their masters direct, they try with their trunks
whether the goods are properly stowed ; and if a tun or cask rolls,
they go of their own accord in quest of stones to prop and render
it firm.'

The general exercise of the mental power, without reference to
training, is well illustrated by the following anecdote, related in
Cuvier's Animal Kingdom: 'At the siege of Bhurtpore, in the
year 1805, an affair occurred between two elephants, which dis-
plays at once the character and mental capability, the passions,
cunning, and resources of these curious animals. The British
army, with its countless host of followers and attendants, and
thousands of cattle, had been for a long time before the city, when,
on the approach of the hot season and of the dry hot winds, the
water in the neighbourhood of the camps necessary for the supply
of so many beings began to fail ; the ponds or tanks had dried up,
and no more water was left than the immense wells of the country
would furnish. The multitude of men and cattle that were unceas-
ingly at the wells, particularly the largest, occasioned no little
struggle for the priority in procuring the supply for which each was
there to seek, and the consequent confusion on the spot was frequently
very considerable. On one occasion, two elephant-drivers, each


with his elephant, the one remarkably large and strong, and the
other comparatively small and weak, were at the well together ; the
small elephant had been provided by his master with a bucket for
the occasion, which he carried at the end of his proboscis ; but the
larger animal, being destitute of this necessary vessel, either spon-
taneously, or by desire of his keeper, seized the bucket, and easily
wrested it from his less powerful fellow-servant. The latter was too
sensible of his inferiority openly to resent the insult, though it is
obvious that he felt it ; but great squabbling and abuse ensued
between the keepers. At length the weaker animal, watching the
opportunity when the other was standing with his side to the well,
retired backwards a few paces in a very quiet, unsuspicious manner,
and then rushing forward with all his might, drove his head against
the side of the other, and fairly pushed him into the well.

' It may easily be imagined that great inconvenience was imme-
diately experienced, and serious apprehensions quickly followed that
the water in the well, on which the existence of so many seemed in
a great measure to depend, would be spoiled, or at least injured, by
the unwieldy brute thus precipitated into it ; and as the surface of
the water was nearly twenty feet below the common level, there did
not appear to be any means that could be adopted to get the animal
out by main force, at least without injuring him. There were many
feet of water below the elephant, who floated with ease on its surface,
and experiencing considerable pleasure from his cool retreat, evinced
but little inclination even to exert what means he might possess in
himself of escape.

'A vast number of fascines had been employed by the army in
conducting the siege, and at length it occurred to the elephant-
keeper that a sufficient number of these (which may be compared
to bundles of wood) might be lowered into the well to make a pile,
which might be raised to the top, if the animal could be instructed
as to the necessary means of laying them in regular succession under
his feet. Permission having been obtained from the engineer-officers
to use the fascines, which were at the time put away in several piles
of very considerable height, the keeper had to teach the elephant
the lesson which, by means of that extraordinary ascendency these
men attain over the elephants, joined with the intellectual resources
of the animal itself, he was soon enabled to do, and the elephant
began quickly to place each fascine, as it was lowered to him,
successively under him, until in a little time he was enabled to stand
upon them. By this time, however, the cunning brute, enjoying the
pleasure of his situation, after the heat and partial privation of water
to which he had been lately exposed (they are observed in their
natural state to frequent rivers, and to swim very often), was un-
willing to work any longer, and all the threats of his keeper could
not induce him to place another fascine. The man then opposed
cunning to cunning, and began to caress and praise the elephant ;


and what he could not effect by threats, he was enabled to do by
the repeated promise of plenty of rack. Incited by this, the animal
again went to work, raised himself considerably higher, until, by a
partial removal of the masonry round the top of the well, he was
enabled to step out. The whole affair occupied about fourteen

Such are the accounts, which our limits will permit us to glean,
as illustrative of the disposition and manners of this most powerful
and intelligent animal. Making every allowance for the exaggeration
of the writers, these records of his docility, obedience, attachment,
and sagacity place him in a very favourable light ; and though
somewhat prone to resentment, the results are seldom fatal, save
where the provocation has been unusually great. On the whole, he
is a patient and tractable animal, especially useful under a burning
sun, and in a country where there are no roads ; presuming always
that there is an abundant and cheap supply of forage. He can
never, however, become so endeared to man as the dog and the
horse, for these are fitted by their constitution and habits to become
the inhabitants of almost every region, whilst the elephant must
ever be confined to the range which nature has originally assigned
him. As a domestic animal, he can at best be but the associate of
a half-civilised existence ; for so soon as man begins to construct
roads and invent machines, to cultivate his lands and economise
the produce, the elephant becomes not only useless, but positively
detrimental. Already he has receded from the interior of India, and
is only found wild in the forests of Dshemna, Nepaul, some parts of
Ghauts Tarrai, in Ava, and in Ceylon. In Africa, where he is hunted
for his spoils, and not tamed, he has disappeared from Cape Colony,
from the northern regions of that continent, and from Senegambia ;
and will in all likelihood be the more eagerly hunted the scarcer he
becomes. As portion of our terrestrial fauna, the elephant may
linger on for a century or two; but to us he appears rapidly approach-
ing the period of his extinction a period when he must pass away
before adverse conditions, in like manner as his former congeners,
the mammoth and mastodon.


N the long European struggle arising out of the French
revolution, and ending at Waterloo in 1815, there was
no single campaign more eventful, and at the same time
more instructive to mankind, than the invasion of Russia
by Napoleon in 1812. Never, perhaps, was such an
amount of the evils and horrors of war concentrated into the same
space of time ; and never was the saying more strikingly illustrated,
that whatever mad pranks kings choose to play, the people must pay
the piper. Very few now living can have any recollection of the
profound impression made by those events at the time ; to nine-
tenths of the present generation the campaign of 1812 lies in the dim
past, and, if known to them at all, is known only from the dozen
sentences devoted to it in our school histories.

It may not therefore be unwholesome to turn back to this page
in the annals of war, and trace it a little more at large; especially at
a time when the warlike passion which seemed at one time to be
dying out, has once more taken possession of civilised nations or
their rulers. The terrible struggles of recent years, which have taken
place under our own eyes, we are prevented from seeing in their true
light by the biassing passions they excite ; we shall be able to bring
a calmer judgment to bear on a picture of the past.

From the time that Napoleon Bonaparte found himself, first as

Consul (i 799), and then as Emperor (1804), virtual Dictator of France,

and wielding without control her gigantic insurrectionary energies,

which no other power seemed able to resist, he began to cherish vast



projects for the aggrandisement of his country and of himself for
his own greatness and that of France he always considered as
identical. All the nations of Europe (Europe first, but ultimately the
whole earth) were to be brought into one federation, following the
lead of France that is, governing themselves according to the ideas
of her ruler. They were to be induced, if possible, to come into this
association voluntarily, but those who^refused were to be compelled.
Like ignorant and wayward children, they were to be chastised and
trained to walk in the way they should go. It was all for their good.
Napoleon's aim was that they should be all ultimately prosperous
and happy; but they must learn to seek their prosperity and
happiness in his way, and not in their own. It was on the plea
that they were necessary to the carrying out of his grand ideas of
universal beneficence, that he justified to himself and his contem-
poraries his most arbitrary and tyrannical measures ; and the
worshippers of his genius continue thus to justify, or at least excuse,
them to the present day.

The chief obstacle to the execution of Napoleon's plans was Great
Britain. Any opposition from the neighbouring continental nations
was at once overcome by marching an army into their territories.
Britain, surrounded by her ocean-rampart and her fleets, continued
to set him at defiance. And not only did she resist his dictation her-
self, but by forming coalitions and furnishing subsidies, she was
constantly stirring up armed resistance among the other nations.
Hence the deep-seated enmity of Napoleon to Great Britain, and the
desperate efforts he made to crush her. After the rupture of the
peace, or rather truce, of Amiens in 1803, he began to make immense
preparations for the invasion of England. His great difficulty was
to get a fleet sufficiently strong to protect the transport of his army
across the Channel from Boulogne, where it was assembled. During
the summer of 1805 all was ready for the attempt, and Napoleon
wrote to his Minister of Marine that if the fleet would appear and
make him master of the Channel for twelve hours, England was no
more. But Admiral Villeneuve was unable to elude the vigilance
of Nelson; and at last the battle of Trafalgar (October 1805) put an
end to the project of invasion.

But if England could not be reached by direct assault, she might
be ruined indirectly. Her riches, derived from commerce, were the
source of her power. Ruin her commerce, and she could no longer
tight herself, or bribe others to fight. Accordingly, when the events
of 1805 and 1806 had crushed Austria and Prussia, and put the whole
of Germany as well as the Italian peninsula at his feet, he began to
develop his famous ' Continental System,' by which all the countries of
Europe were to be induced or compelled to exclude British mer-
chandise from their ports. A decree, issued from Berlin in November
1806, declared the whole of the British Islands to be in a state of
blockade, and all vessels trading to them to be liable to capture.


It also shut out all British vessels and produce both from France and
from all the other countries adhering to her. The British govern-
ment retaliated by ' Orders in Council,' which virtually prohibited all
commerce between the states that embraced the continental system,
unless in vessels bound for some British harbour; and Napoleon
replied by another decree from Milan (1807), still more rigorous than
the first. The Berlin decree was put in force at once in Italy, Hol-
land, and the north of Germany; Prussia and Russia gave their
adhesion to the system at the treaty of Tilsit in 1807; and Spain and
Austria in 1808. Portugal, summoned to join the commercial league
against Great Britain, yielded so far as to close her ports against
British ships, but refused to confiscate the property of British resi-
dents : for this she was invaded (1807), and the reigning family
deposed. In short, no government was to be allowed to exist that
would not co-operate with Napoleon in the object dearest to his heart
to crush perfidious Albion, that enemy of the human race which
alone stood between Europe and the glorious future that he was
preparing for it. This is the key to the whole policy of Napoleon at
this time. It accounts for his most wanton and apparently impolitic
aggressions. It was because his brother Louis, whom he had made
king of Holland, was reluctant to carry out with rigour the continental
system against England, that he was obliged to leave his kingdom
(1810), which was then annexed to France.

The continental system produced far more commercial distress
on the continent than it did in England. It was impossible, even
by the most stringent measures, to exclude English goods ; a con-
traband traffic was organised, by which immense quantities were
still introduced, but at greatly enhanced prices; and Napoleon him-
self soon found it useful to convert the evasion of his own decree
into a source of revenue, by granting licences, for large sums, for
the sale of British goods on the continent.

The hardships of the continental system were felt in Russia no
less than in the rest of Europe. It was to enable him to carry out
his schemes fully, that Napoleon had been so eager to court the
alliance of Alexander, emperor of Russia. At the treaty of Tilsit,
(1807), and at a subsequent interview at Erfurt (1808), the two
monatchs divided the sway of Europe between them. Alexander
gratified Napoleon by joining the league against British commerce,
and allowed him to dispose of the Spanish peninsula and the other
states of Western Europe at his pleasure; while Napoleon gave his
assent to the ambitious designs of Russia against Sweden and
Turkey, and agreed to forego his intention of restoring the kingdom
of Poland. But the cordial understanding between the two poten-
tates was of short duration. Alexander, who was no less ambitious
and aggressive than Napoleon, but whose ambition and aggressive-
ness were more stealthy and better cloaked, soon began to be jealous
and alarmed at the rapid strides of his brother despot. The


marriage of the French emperor with an Austrian princess (1810)
was a cause of difference between them. Shortly after this, Napoleon,
finding that the continental system was laxly carried out in the
north of Germany, without more ado, annexed the kingdom of Hol-
land, the free cities of Hamburg, Bremen, and Liibeck, the duchy
of Oldenburg, and other small states in that quarter, to the French
territories ; thus bringing the boundaries of France to the Baltic,
where Russia claimed the right to dominate. Alexander immediately
replied to this by issuing a ukase, which, while pretending merely
to regulate the affairs of commerce, virtually renounced the con-
tinental system. This was to wound Napoleon in his most sensitive
point, and an open rupture became inevitable. Both felt this, and
the following year (1811) was spent in seeking alliances and in
arming for the coming struggle.

When it became known that Napoleon had resolved on the invasion
of Russia, his own friends were filled with consternation. Fouche*,
one of his prime adherents, in an able and eloquent address,
reminded him that he was already the absolute master of the finest
empire the world had ever seen, and that all the lessons of history
went to demonstrate the impossibility of attaining universal mon-
archy. The French empire had arrived at that point when its ruler
should rather think of securing and consolidating his present acquisi-
tions, than of achieving farther conquests, since, whatever his empire
might acquire in extent, it was sure to lose in solidity. . Fouche
stated the extent of the country which Napoleon was about to invade,
and the distance which each fresh victory must remove him from his
resources, annoyed as his communications were sure to be by hosts
of Cossacks and Tartars. These and other admonitions were listened

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 23 of 58)