Leigh Hunt: Some Remarks On War And Military Statesmen
Containing Some Remarks On War And Military Statesmen (1835)
Is a murder in the streets worth attending to, – a single wounded man worth carrying to the hospital, – and are all the murders, and massacres, and fields of wounded, and the madness, the conflagrations, the famines, the miseries of families, and the rickety frames and melancholy bloods of posterity, only fit to have an embroidered handkerchief thrown over them?
It is high time for the world to show that it has come to man’s estate, and can put down what is wrong without violence. Should the wrong still return, we should have a right to say with the Apostle, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof;” for meanwhile we should “not have done evil that good may come.” That “good” may come! nay, that evil may be perpetuated; for what good, superior to the alternatives denounced, is achieved by this eternal round of war and its causes?
I firmly believe, that war, or the sending thousands of our fellow-creatures to cut one another to bits, often for what they have no concern in, nor understand, will one day be reckoned far more absurd than if people were to settle an argument over the dinner-table with their knives, – a logic indeed, which was once fashionable in some places during the “good old times.” The world has seen the absurdity of that practice: why should it not come to years of discretion, with respect to violence on a larger scale?
The object of this poem is to show the horrors of war, the false ideas of power produced in the minds of its leaders, and, by inference, the unfitness of those leaders for the government of the world.
The author intends no more offence to any one than can be helped: he feels due admiration for that courage and energy, the supposed misdirection of which it deplores; he heartily acknowledges the probability, that that supposed misdirection has been hitherto no misdirection, but a necessity – but he believes that the time is come when, by encouraging the disposition to question it, its services and its sufferings may be no longer required, and he would fain tear asunder the veil from the sore places of war, – would show what has been hitherto kept concealed, or not shown earnestly, and for the purpose, – would prove, at all events, that the time has come for putting an end to those phrases in the narratives of warfare, by which a suspicious delicacy is palmed upon the reader, who is told, after everything has been done to excite his admiration of war, that his feelings are “spared” a recital of its miseries – that “a veil” is drawn over them – a “truce” given to descriptions which only “harrow up the soul,” &c.
Suppose it be necessary to “harrow up the soul,” in order that the soul be no longer harrowed? Moralists and preachers do not deal after this tender fashion with moral, or even physical consequences, resulting from other evils. Why should they spare these? Why refuse to look their own effeminacy in the face, – their own gaudy and overweening encouragement of what they dare not contemplate in its results? Is a murder in the streets worth attending to, – a single wounded man worth carrying to the hospital, – and are all the murders, and massacres, and fields of wounded, and the madness, the conflagrations, the famines, the miseries of families, and the rickety frames and melancholy bloods of posterity, only fit to have an embroidered handkerchief thrown over them? Must “ladies and gentlemen” be called off, that they may not “look that way,” the “sight is so shocking”? Does it become us to let others endure, what we cannot bear even to think of?
Even if nothing else were to come of inquiries into the horrors of war, surely they would cry aloud for some better provision against their extremity after battle, – for some regulated and certain assistance to the wounded and agonized, – so that we might hear no longer of men left in cold and misery all night, writhing with torture, – of bodies stripped by prowlers, perhaps murderers, – and of frenzied men, the other day the darlings of their friends, dying, two and even several days after the battle, of famine! The field of Waterloo was not completely cleared of its dead and dying till nearly a week! Surely large companies of men should be organized for the sole purpose of assisting and clearing away the field after battle. They should be steady men, not lightly admitted, nor unpossessed of some knowledge of surgery, and they should be attached to the surgeon’s staff. Both sides would respect them for their office, and keep them sacred from violence. Their duties would be too painful and useful to get them disrespected for not joining in the fight – and possibly, before long, they would help to do away their own necessity, by detailing what they beheld. Is that the reason why there is no such establishment? The question is asked, not in bitterness, but to suggest a self-interrogation to the instincts of war.
I have not thought proper to put notes to the poem, detailing the horrors which I have touched upon; nor even to quote my authorities, which are unfortunately too numerous, and contain worse horrors still. They are furnished by almost every history of a campaign, in all quarters of the world. Circumstances so painful, in a first attempt to render them public for their own sakes, would, I thought, even meet with less attention in prose than in verse, however less fitted they may appear for it at first sight. Verse, if it has any enthusiasm, at once demands and conciliates attention; it proposes to say much in little; and it associates with it the idea of something consolatory, or otherwise sustaining. But there is one prose specimen of these details, which I will give, because it made so great an impression on me in my youth, that I never afterwards could help calling it to mind when war was spoken of; and as I had a good deal to say on that subject, having been a public journalist during one of the most interesting periods of modern history, and never having been blinded into an admiration of war by the dazzle of victory, the circumstance may help to show how salutary a record of this kind may be, and what an impression the subject might be brought to make on society. The passage is in a note to one of Mr Southey‘s poems, the “Ode to Horror,” and is introduced by another frightful record, less horrible, because there is not such agony implied in it, nor is it alive.
“I extract” (says Mr Southey) “the following picture of consummate horror from notes to a poem written in twelve-syllable verse, upon the campaign of 1794 and 1795: it was during the retreat to Deventer. ‘We could not proceed a hundred yards without perceiving the dead bodies of men, women, children, and horses, in every direction. One scene made an impression upon my memory which time will never be able to efface. Near another cart we perceived a stout-looking man and a beautiful young woman, with an infant, about seven months old, at the breast, all three frozen and dead. The mother had most certainly expired in the act of suckling her child; as with one breast exposed she lay upon the drifted snow, the milk to all appearance in a stream drawn from the nipple by the babe, and instantly congealed. The infant seemed as if its lips had but just then been disengaged, and it reposed its little head upon the mother’s bosom, with an overflow of milk, frozen as it trickled from the mouth. Their countenances were perfectly composed and fresh, resembling those of persons in a sound and tranquil slumber.'”
“The following description (he continues) of a field of battle is in the words of one who passed over the field of Jemappe, after Doumourier’s victory: ‘It was on the third day after the victory obtained by general Doumourier over the Austrians, that I rode across the field of battle. The scene lies on a waste common, rendered then more dreary by the desertion of the miserable hovels before occupied by peasants. Everything that resembled a human habitation was desolated, and for the most part they had been burnt or pulled down, to prevent their affording shelter to the posts of the contending armies. The ground was ploughed up by the wheels of the artillery and waggons; everything like herbage was trodden into mire; broken carriages, arms, accoutrements, dead horses and men, were strewed over the heath. This was the third day after the battle: it was the beginning of November, and for three days a bleak wind and heavy rain had continued incessantly. There were still remaining alive several hundreds of horses, and of the human victims of that dreadful fight. I can speak with certainty of having seen more than four hundred men still living, unsheltered, without food, and without any human assistance, most of them confined to the spot where they had fallen by broken limbs. The two armies had proceeded, and abandoned these miserable wretches to their fate. Some of the dead persons appeared to have expired in the act of embracing each other. Two young French officers, who were brothers, had crawled under the side of a dead horse, where they had contrived a kind of shelter by means of a cloak: they were both mortally wounded, and groaning for each other. One very fine young man had just strength enough to drag himself out of a hollow partly filled with water, and was laid upon a little hillock groaning with agony; A GRAPE-SHOT HAD CUT ACROSS THE UPPER PART OF HIS BELLY, AND HE WAS KEEPING IN HIS BOWELS WITH A HANDKERCHIEF AND HAT. He begged of me to end his misery! He complained of dreadful thirst. I filled him the hat of a dead soldier with water, which he nearly drank off at once, and left him to that end of his wretchedness which could not be far distant.'”
“I hope (concludes Mr Southey), I have always felt and expressed an honest and Christian abhorrence of wars, and of the systems that produce them; but my ideas of their immediate horrors fell infinitely short of this authentic picture.”
Mr Southey, in his subsequent lives of conquerors, and his other writings, will hardly be thought to have acted up to this “abhorrence of wars, and of the systems that produce them.” Nor is he to be blamed for qualifying his view of the subject, equally blameless (surely) as they are to be held who have retained their old views, especially by him who helped to impress them. His friend Mr Wordsworth, in the vivacity of his admonitions to hasty complaints of evil, has gone so far as to say that “Carnage is God’s daughter,” and thereby subjected himself to the scoffs of a late noble wit. He is addressing the Deity himself: –
“But thy most dreaded instrument,
In working out a pure intent,
Is man, array’d for mutual slaughter:
Yea, Carnage is thy daughter.”
Mr Wordsworth is a great poet and a philosophical thinker, in spite of his having here paid a tremendous compliment to a rhyme (for unquestionably the word “slaughter” provoked him into that imperative “Yea,” and its subsequent venturous affiliation); but the judgment, to say no more of it, is rash. Whatever the Divine Being intends, by his permission or use of evil, it becomes us to think the best of it; but not to affirm the appropriation of the particulars to him under their worst appellation, seeing that he has implanted in us a horror of them, and a wish to do them away. What it is right in him to do, is one thing; what it is proper in us to affirm that he actually does, is another. And, above all, it is idle to affirm what he intends to do for ever, and to have us eternally venerate and abstain from questioning an evil. All good and evil, and vice and virtue themselves, might become confounded in the human mind by a like daring; and humanity sit down under every buffet of misfortune, without attempting to resist it: which, fortunately, is impossible. Plato cut this knotty point better, by regarding evil as a thing senseless and unmalignant (indeed no philosopher regards anything as malignant, or malignant for malignity’s sake); out of which, or notwithstanding it, good is worked, and to be worked, perhaps, finally to the abolition of evil. But whether this consummation be possible or not, and even if the dark horrors of evil be necessary towards the enjoyment of the light of good, still the horror must be maintained, where the object is really horrible; otherwise, we but the more idly resist the contrast, if necessary – and, what is worse, endanger the chance of melioration, if possible.
Did war appear to me an inevitable evil, I should be one of the last men to shew it in any other than its holiday clothes. I can appeal to writings before the public, to testify whether I am in the habit of making the worst of anything, or of not making it yield its utmost amount of good. My inclinations, as well as my reason, lie all that way. I am a passionate and grateful lover of all the beauties of the universe, moral and material; and the chief business of my life is to endeavour to give others the like fortunate affection. But, on the same principle, I feel it my duty to look evil in the face, in order to discover if it be capable of amendment; and I do not see why the miseries of war are to be spared this interrogation, simply because they are frightful and enormous. Men get rid of smaller evils which lie in their way – nay, of great ones; and there appears to be no reason why they should not get rid of the greatest, if they will but have the courage. We have abolished inquisitions and the rack, burnings for religion, burnings for witchcraft, hangings for forgery (a great triumph in a commercial country), much of the punishment of death in some countries, all of it in others. Why not abolish war? Mr Wordsworth writes no odes to tell us that the Inquisition was God’s daughter; though Lope de Vega, who was one of its officers, might have done so – and Mr Wordsworth too, had he lived under its dispensation. Lope de Vega, like Mr Wordsworth and Mr Southey, was a good man, as well as a celebrated poet: and we will concede to his memory what the English poets will, perhaps, not be equally disposed to grant (for they are severe on the Romish faith) that even the Inquisition, like War, might possibly have had some utility in its evil, were it no other than a hastening of Christianity by its startling contradictions of it. Yet it has gone. The Inquisition, as War may be hereafter, is no more. Daughter if it was of the Supreme Good, it was no immortal daughter. Why should “Carnage” be, – especially as God has put it in our heads to get rid of it?
I am aware of what may be said on these occasions, to “puzzle the will;” and I concede of course, that mankind may entertain false views of their power to change anything for the better. I concede, that all change may be only in appearance, and not make any real difference in the general amount of good and evil; that evil, to a certain invariable amount, may be necessary to the amount of good (the overbalance of which, with a most hearty and loving sincerity, I ever acknowledge); and finally, that all which the wisest of men could utter on any such subject, might possibly be nothing but a jargon, – the witless and puny voice of what we take to be a mighty orb, but which, after all, is only a particle in the starry dust of the universe.
On the other hand, all this may be something very different from what we take it to be, setting aside even the opinions which consider mind as everything, and time and space themselves as only modifications of it, or breathing-room in which it exists, weaving the thoughts which it calls life, death, and materiality.
But be his metaphysical opinions what they may, who but some fantastic individual, or ultra-contemplative scholar, ever thinks of subjecting to them his practical notions of bettering his condition! And how soon is it likely that men will leave off endeavouring to secure themselves against the uneasier chances of vicissitude, even if Providence ordains them to do so for no other end than the preservation of vicissitude itself, and not in order to help them out of the husks and thorns of action into the flowers of it, and into the air of heaven? Certain it is, at all events, that the human being is incited to increase his amount of good: and that when he is endeavouring to do so, he is at least not fulfilling the worst part of his necessity. Nobody tells us, when we attempt to put out a fire and to save the lives of our neighbours, that Conflagration is God’s daughter, or Murder God’s daughter. On the contrary, these are things which Christendom is taught to think ill off, and to wish to put down; and therefore we should put down war, which is murder and conflagration by millions.
To those who tell us that nations would grow cowardly and effeminate without war, we answer, “Try a reasonable condition of peace first, and then prove it. Try a state of things which mankind have never yet attained, because they had no press, and no universal comparison of notes; and consider, in the meanwhile, whether so cheerful, and intelligent, and just a state, seeing fair play between body and mind, and educated into habits of activity, would be likely to uneducate itself into what was neither respected nor customary. Prove, in the meanwhile, that nations are cowardly and effeminate, that have been long unaccustomed to war; that the South Americans are so; or that all our robust countrymen, who do not “go for soldiers,” are timid agriculturists and manufacturers, with not a quoit to throw on the green, or a saucy word to give to an insult. Moral courage is in self-respect and the sense of duty; physical courage is a matter of health or organization. Are these predispositions likely to fail in a community of instructed freemen? Doubters of advancement are always arguing from a limited past to an unlimited future; that is to say, from a past of which they know but a point, to a future of which they know nothing. They stand on the bridge “between two eternities,” seeing a little bit of it behind them, and nothing at all of what is before; and uttering those words unfit for mortal tongue, “man ever was” and “man ever will be.” They might as well say what is beyond the stars. It appears to be a part of the necessity of things, from what we see of the improvements they make, that all human improvement should proceed by the co-operation of human means. But what blinker into the night of next week, – what luckless prophet of the impossibilities of steam-boats and steam-carriages, – shall presume to say how far those improvements are to extend? Let no man faint in the co-operation with which God has honoured him.
As to those superabundances of population which wars and other evils are supposed to be necessary in order to keep down, there are questions which have a right to be put, long before any such necessity is assumed: and till those questions be answered, and the experiments dependent upon them tried, the interrogators have a right to assume that no such necessity exists. I do not enter upon them – for I am not bound to do so; but I have touched upon them in the poem; and the “too rich,” and other disingenuous half-reasoners, know well what they are. All passionate remedies for evil are themselves evil, and tend to re-produce what they remedy. It is high time for the world to show that it has come to man’s estate, and can put down what is wrong without violence. Should the wrong still return, we should have a right to say with the Apostle, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof;” for meanwhile we should “not have done evil that good may come.” That “good” may come! nay, that evil may be perpetuated; for what good, superior to the alternatives denounced, is achieved by this eternal round of war and its causes? Let us do good in a good and kind manner, and trust to the co-operation of Providence for the result. It seems the only real way of attaining to the very best of which our earth is capable; and at the very worst, necessity, like the waters, will find its level, and the equity of things be justified.
I firmly believe, that war, or the sending thousands of our fellow-creatures to cut one another to bits, often for what they have no concern in, nor understand, will one day be reckoned far more absurd than if people were to settle an argument over the dinner-table with their knives, – a logic indeed, which was once fashionable in some places during the “good old times.” The world has seen the absurdity of that practice: why should it not come to years of discretion, with respect to violence on a larger scale? The other day, our own country and the United States agreed to refer a point in dispute to the arbitration of the king of Holland; a compliment (if we are to believe the newspapers) of which his majesty was justly proud. He struck a medal on the strength of it, which history will show as a set-off against his less creditable attempts to force his opinions upon the Belgians. Why should not every national dispute be referred, in like manner, to a third party? There is reason to suppose, that the judgment would stand a good chance of being impartial; and it would benefit the character of the judge, and dispose him to receive judgments of the same kind; till at length the custom would prevail, like any other custom; and men be astonished at the customs that preceded it. In private life, none but school-boys and the vulgar settle disputes by blows; even duelling is losing its dignity.
Two nations, or most likely two governments, have a dispute; they reason the point backwards and forwards; they cannot determine it; perhaps they do not wish to determine; so, like two carmen in the street, they fight it out; first, however, dressing themselves up to look fine, and pluming themselves on their absurdity; just as if the two carmen were to go and put on their Sunday clothes, and stick a feather in their hat besides, in order to be as dignified and fantastic as possible. They then “go at it,” and cover themselves with mud, blood, and glory. Can anything be more ridiculous? Yet, apart from the habit of thinking otherwise, and being drummed into the notion by the very toys of infancy, the similitude is not one atom too ludicrous; no, nor a thousandth part enough so. I am aware that a sarcasm is but a sarcasm, and need not imply any argument; never includes all; – but it acquires a more respectable character when so much is done to keep it out of sight, – when so many questions are begged against it by “pride, pomp, and circumstance,” and allegations of necessity. Similar allegations may be, and are brought forward, by other nations of the world, in behalf of customs which we, for our parts, think very ridiculous, and do our utmost to put down; never referring them, as we refer our own, to the mysterious ordinations of Providence; or, if we do, never hesitating to suppose, that Providence, in moving us to interfere, is varying its ordinations. Now, all that I would ask of the advocates of war, is to apply the possible justice of this supposition to their own case, for the purpose of thoroughly investigating the question.
But they will exultingly say, perhaps, “Is this a time for investigating the question, when military genius, even for civil purposes, has regained its ascendancy in the person of the Duke of Wellington? When the world has shown that it cannot do without him? When whigs, radicals, liberals of all sorts, have proved to be but idle talkers, in comparison with this man of few words and many deeds?” I answer, that it remains to be proved whether the ascendancy be gained or not; that I have no belief it will be regained; and that, in the meanwhile, never was time fitter for questioning the merits of war, and, by inference, those of its leaders. The general peacefulness of the world presents a fair opportunity for laying the foundations of peaceful opinion; and the alarm of the moment renders the interrogation desirable for its immediate sake.
The re-appearance of a military administration, or of an administration barely civil, and military at heart, may not, at first sight, be thought the most promising one for hastening a just appreciation of war, and the ascendancy of moral over physical strength. But is it, or can it be, lasting? Will it not provoke – is it not now provoking – a re-action still more peremptory against the claims of Toryism, than the state of things which preceded it? Is it anything but a flash of success, still more indicative of expiring life, and caused only by its convulsive efforts?
If it be, this it is easy enough to predict, that Sir Robert Peel, notwithstanding his abilities, and the better ambition which is natural to them, and which struggles in him with an inferior one, impatient of his origin, will turn out to be nothing but a servant of the aristocracy, and (more or less openly) of a barrack-master. He will be the servant, not of the King, not of the House of Commons, but of the House of Lords, and (as long as such influence lasts, which can be but a short while), of its military leader. He will do nothing whatsoever contrary to their dictation, upon peril of being treated worse than Canning; and all the reform which he is permitted to bring about will be only just as much as will serve to keep off the spirit of it as long as possible, and to continue the people in that state of comparative ignorance, which is the only safeguard of monopoly. Every unwilling step of reform will be accompanied with some retrograde or bye effort in favour of the abuses reformed: cunning occasion will be seized to convert boons, demanded by the age, into gifts of party favour, and bribes for the toleration of what is withheld; and as knowledge proceeds to extort public education (for extort it it will, and in its own way too at last), mark, and see what attempts will be made to turn knowledge against itself, and to catechise the nation back into the schoolboy acquiescence of the good people of Germany. Much good is there in that people – I would not be thought to undervalue it – much bonhommie – and in the most despotic districts, as much sensual comfort as can make any people happy who know no other happiness. But England and France, the leaders of Europe, the peregrinators of the world, cannot be confined to those lazy and prospectless paths. They have gone through the feudal reign; they must now go through the commercial (God forbid that for any body’s sake they should stop there!), and they will continue to advance, till all are instructed, and all are masters; and government, in however gorgeous a shape, be truly their servant. The problem of existing governments is how to prepare for this inevitable period, and to continue to be its masters, by converting themselves frankly and truly into its friends. For my part, as one of the people, I confess I like the colours and shows of feudalism, and would retain as much of them as would adorn nobler things. I would keep the tiger’s skin, though the beast be killed; the painted window, though the superstition be laid in the tomb. Nature likes external beauty, and man likes it. It softens the heart, enriches the imagination, and helps to show us that there are other goods in the world besides bare utility. I would fain see the splendours of royalty combined with the cheapness of a republic and the equal knowledge of all classes. Is such a combination impossible? I would exhort the lovers of feudal splendour to be the last men to think so; for a thousand times more impossible will they find its retention under any other circumstances. Their royalties, their educations, their accomplishments of all sorts, must go along with the Press and its irresistible consequences, or they will be set aside like a child in a corner, who has insisted on keeping the toys and books of his brothers to himself.
Now, there is nothing that irritates a just cause so much as a threatening of force; and all impositions of a military chief on a state, where civil directors will, at least, do as well, is a threatening of force, disguise it, or pretend to laugh at it, as its imposers may. This irritation in England will not produce violence. Public opinion is too strong, and the future too secure. But deeply and daily will increase the disgust and the ridicule; and individuals will get laughed at and catechised who cannot easily be sent out of the way as ambassadors, and who might as well preserve their self-respect a little better. To attempt, however quietly, to overawe the advance of improvement, by the aspect of physical force, is as idle as if soldiers were drawn out to suppress the rising of a flood. The flood rises quietly, irresistibly, without violence – it cannot help it – the waters of knowledge are out, and will “cover the earth.” Of what use is it to see the representative of a by-gone influence – a poor individual mortal (for he is nothing else in the comparison), fretting and fuming on the shore of this mighty sea, and playing the part of a Canute reversed, – an antic really taking his flatterers at their word?
The first thirty-five years of the nineteenth century have been rich in experiences of the sure and certain failure of all soldiership and Toryism to go heartily along in the cause of the many. There has been the sovereign instance of Napoleon Bonaparte himself – of the allies after him – of Charles the Tenth – of Louis Philippe, albeit a “schoolmaster,” – and lastly, of this strange and most involuntary Reformer the Duke of Wellington, who refused to do, under Canning, or for principle’s sake, what he consented to do when Canning died, for the sake of regaining power, and of keeping it with as few concessions as possible. Canning perished because Toryism, or the principle of power for its own sake, to which he had been a servant, could not bear to acknowledge him as its master. His intellect was just great enough (as his birth was small enough) to render it jealous of him under that aspect. There is an instinct in Toryism which renders pure intellect intolerable to it, except in some inferior or mechanical shape, or in the flattery of voluntary servitude. But, by a like instinct, it is not so jealous of military renown. It is glad of the doubtful amount of intellect in military genius, and knows it to be a good ally in the preservation of power, and in the substitution of noise and show for qualities fearless of inspection. Is it an ascendancy of this kind which the present age requires, or will permit? Do we want a soldier at the head of us, when there is nobody abroad to fight with? when international as well as national questions can manifestly settle themselves without him? and when his appearance in the seat of power can indicate nothing but a hankering after those old substitutions of force for argument, or at best of “an authority for a reason,” which every step of reform is hoping to do away? Do we want him to serve in our shops? to preside over our studies? to cultivate “peace and good will” among nations? wounding no self love – threatening no social?
There never was a soldier, purely brought up as such – and it is of such only I speak, and not of rare and even then perilous exceptions, – men educated in philosophy like Epaminondas, or in homely household virtues and citizenship like Washington – but there never was a soldier such as I speak of, who did more for the world than was compatible with his confined and arbitrary breeding. I do not speak, of course, with reference to the unprofessional part of his character. Circumstances, especially the participation of dangers and vicissitude, often conspire with naturally good qualities to render soldiers the most amiable of men; and nothing is more delightful to contemplate than an old military veteran, whose tenderness of heart has survived the shocks of the rough work it has been tried in, till twenty miserable sights of war and horror start up to the imagination as a set-off against its attractiveness. But, publicly speaking, the more a soldier succeeds, the more he looks upon soldiership as something superior to all other kinds of ascendancy, and qualified to dispense with them. He always ends in considering the flower of the art of government as consisting in issuing “orders,” and that of popular duty as comprised in “obedience.” Cities with him are barracks, and the nation a conquered country. He is at best but a pioneer of civilization. When he undertakes to be the civilizer himself, he makes mistakes that betray him to others, even supposing him self-deceived. Napoleon, though he was the accidental instrument of a popular re-action, was one of the educated tools of the system that provoked it, – an officer brought up at a Royal Military College; and in spite of his boasted legislation and his real genius, such he ever remained. He did as much for his own aggrandizement as he could, and no more for the world than he thought compatible with it. The same military genius which made him as great as he was, stopped him short of a greater greatness; because, quick and imposing as he was in acting the part of a civil ruler, he was in reality a soldier and nothing else, and by the excess of the soldier’s propensity (aggrandizement by force), he over-toppled himself, and fell to pieces. Soldiership appears to have narrowed or hardened the public spirit of every man who has spent the chief part of his life in it, who has died at an age which gives final proofs of its tendency, and whose history is thoroughly known. We all know what Cromwell did to an honest parliament. Marlborough ended in being a miser and the tool of his wife. Even good-natured, heroic Nelson condescended to become an executioner at Naples. Frederick did much for Prussia, as a power; but what became of her as a people, or power either, before the popular power of France? Even Washington seemed not to comprehend those who thought that negro-slaves ought to be freed.
In the name of common sense then, what do we want with a soldier who was born and bred in circumstances the most arbitrary; who never advocated a liberal measure as long as he could help it; and who (without meaning to speak presumptuously, or in one’s own person unauthorized by opinion) is one of the merest soldiers, though a great one, that ever existed, – without genius of any other sort, – with scarcely a civil public quality either commanding or engaging (as far as the world in general can see), – and with no more to say for himself than the most mechanical clerk in office? In what respect is the Duke of Wellington better fitted to be a parliamentary leader, than the Sir Arthur Wellesley of twenty years back? Or what has re-cast the habits and character of the Colonel Wellesley of the East Indies, to give him an unprofessional consideration for the lives and liberties of his fellow-creatures?
And yet the Duke of Wellington (it is said) may, after all, be in earnest in his professions of reform and advancement. If so, he will be the most remarkable instance that ever existed, of the triumph of reason over the habits of a life, and the experience of mankind. I have looked for some such man through a very remarkable period of the world, when an honest declaration to this effect would have set him at the top of mankind, to be worshipped for ever; and I never found the glorious opportunity seized, – not by Napoleon when he came from Elba, – not by the allies when they conquered him, – not by Louis Philippe, though he was educated in adversity. I mean that he has shown himself a prince born, of the most aristocratic kind; and evidently considers himself as nothing but the head of a new dynasty. When the Duke of Wellington had the opportunity of being a reformer, of his own free will, he resisted it as long as he could. He opposed reform up to the last moment of its freedom from his dictation; he declared that ruin would follow it; that the institutions of the country were perfect without it; and that, at the very least, the less of it the better. And for this enmity, even if no other reason existed, – even if his new light were sincere, – the Duke of Wellington ought not to have the honour of leading reform. It is just as if a man had been doing all he could to prevent another from entering his own house, and then, when he found that the by-standers would insist on his having free passage, were to turn to them, smiling, and say, “Well, since it must be so, allow me to do the honours of the mansion.” Everybody knows what this proposal would be called by the by-standers. And if the way in which greatness is brought up and spoilt gives it a right to a less homely style of rebuke (as I grant it does), still the absurdity of the Duke’s claim is not the less evident, nor the air of it less provoking.
I can imagine but two reasons for the remotest possible permission of this glaring anomaly – this government of anti-reforming reformers – this hospital of sick guides for the healthy, supported by involuntary contributions: first, sheer necessity (which is ludicrous); and second, a facilitation of church reform through the Lords and the bench of Bishops; the desirableness of which facilitation appears to be in no proportion to the compromise it is likely to make with abuses. I have read, I believe, all the utmost possible things that can be said in its favour, the articles, for instance, written by the Times newspaper (admirable, as far as a rotten cause can let them be, and when not afflicted by some portentous mystery of personal resentment); and though I trust I may lay claim to as much willingness to be convinced, as most men who have suffered and reflected, I have not seen a single argument which did not appear to me fully answered by the above objection alone (about the “honour”); setting aside the innumerable convincing ones urged by reasoners on the other side: for as to any dearth of statesmen in a country like this, it never existed, nor ever can, till education and public spirit have entirely left it. There have been the same complaints at every change in the history of administrations; and the crop has never failed.
Allow me to state here, that any appearance of personality in this book is involuntary. Public principles are sometimes incarnate in individual shapes; and, in attacking them, the individual may be seemingly attacked, where, to eyes which look a little closer, there is evidently no such intention. I have been obliged to identify, in some measure, the Power of the Sword with several successive individuals, and with the Duke of Wellington most, because he is the reigning shape, and includes all its pretensions. But as an individual who am nothing, except in connexion with what I humanly feel, I dare to affirm, that I have not only the consideration that becomes me for all human beings, but a flesh and blood regard for every body; and that I as truly respect in the Noble Duke the possession of military science, of a straight-forward sincerity, and a valour of which no circumstances or years can diminish the ready firmness, as I doubt the fitness of a man of his education, habits, and political principles, for the guidance of an intellectual age.
I dislike Toryism, because I think it an unjust, exacting, and pernicious thing, which tends to keep the interests of the many in perpetual subjection to those of the few; but far be it from me, in common modesty, to dislike those who have been brought up in its principles, and taught to think them good, – far less such of them as adorn it by intellectual or moral qualities, and who justly claim for it, under its best aspect in private life, that ease and urbanity of behaviour which implies an acknowledgment of its claims to respect, even where those claims are partly grounded in prejudice. I heartily grant to the privileged classes, that, enjoying in many respects the best educations, they have been conservators of polished manners, and of the other graces of intercourse. My quarrel with them is, that the inferior part of their education induces them to wish to keep these manners and graces to themselves, together with a superabundance, good for nobody, of all other advantages; and that thus, instead of being the preservers of a beautiful and genial flame, good for all, and in due season partakeable by all, they would hoard and make an idolatrous treasure of it, sacred to one class alone, and such as the diffusion of knowledge renders it alike useless and exasperating to endeavour to withhold.
I will conclude this Postscript with quotations from three writers of the present day, who may be fairly taken to represent the three distinct classes of the leaders of knowledge, and who will show what is thought of the feasibility of putting an end to war, – the Utilitarian, or those who are all for the tangible and material – the Metaphysical, or those who recognize, in addition, the spiritual and imaginative wants of mankind – and lastly (in no offensive sense), the Men of the World, whose opinion will have the greatest weight of all with the incredulous, and whose speaker is a soldier to boot, and a man who evidently sees fair play to all the weaknesses as well as strengths of our nature.
The first quotation is from the venerable Mr Bentham, a man who certainly lost sight of no existing or possible phase of society, such as the ordinary disputants on this subject contemplate. I venture to think him not thoroughly philosophical on the point, especially in what he says in reproach of men educated to think differently from himself. But the passage will show the growth of opinion in a practical and highly influential quarter.
“Nothing can be worse,” says Mr Bentham, “than the general feeling on the subject of war. The Church, the State, the ruling few, the subject many, all seem to have combined, in order to patronise vice and crime in their very widest sphere of evil. Dress a man in particular garments, call him by a particular name, and he shall have authority, on divers occasions, to commit every species of offence, to pillage, to murder, to destroy human felicity, and, for so doing, he shall be rewarded.
“Of all that is pernicious in admiration, the admiration of heroes is the most pernicious; and how delusion should have made us admire what virtue should teach us to hate and loathe, is among the saddest evidences of human weakness and folly. The crimes of heroes seem lost in the vastness of the field they occupy. A lively idea of the mischief they do, of the misery they create, seldom penetrates the mind through the delusions with which thoughtlessness and falsehood have surrounded their names and deeds. Is it that the magnitude of the evil is too gigantic for entrance? We read of twenty thousand men killed in a battle, with no other feeling than that ‘it was a glorious victory.’ Twenty thousand, or ten thousand, what reck we of their sufferings? The
hosts who perished are evidence of the completeness of the triumph; and the completeness of the triumph is the measure of merit, and the glory of the conqueror. Our schoolmasters, and the immoral books they so often put into our hands, have inspired us with an affection for heroes; and the hero is more heroic in proportion to the
numbers of the slain – add a cypher, not one iota is added to our disapprobation. Four or two figures give us no more sentiment of pain than one figure, while they add marvellously to the grandeur and splendour of the victor. Let us draw forth one individual from those thousands, or tens of thousands, – his leg has been shivered by one ball, his jaw broken by another – he is bathed in his own blood, and that of his fellows – yet he lives, tortured by thirst, fainting, famishing. He is but one of the twenty thousand – one of the
actors and sufferers in the scene of the hero’s glory – and of the twenty thousand there is scarcely one whose suffering or death will not be the centre of a circle of misery. Look again, admirers of that hero! Is not this wretchedness? Because it is repeated ten, ten hundred, ten thousand times, is not this wretchedness?
“The period will assuredly arrive, when better instructed generations will require all the evidence of history to credit, that, in times deeming themselves enlightened, human beings should have been honoured with public approval, in the very proportion of the misery they caused, and the mischiefs they perpetrated. They will call
upon all the testimony which incredulity can require, to persuade them that, in passed ages, men there were – men, too, deemed worthy of popular recompense – who, for some small pecuniary retribution, hired themselves out to do any deeds of pillage, devastation, and murder, which might be demanded of them. And, still more will it shock their sensibilities to learn, that such men, such men-destroyers, were marked out as the eminent and
the illustrious – as the worthy of laurels and monuments – of eloquence and poetry. In that better
and happier epoch, the wise and the good will be busied in hurling into oblivion, or dragging forth
for exposure to universal ignominy and obloquy, many of the heads we deem heroic; while the true
fame and the perdurable glories will be gathered around the creators and diffusers of happiness.” –Deontology.
Our second quotation is from one of the subtilest and most universal thinkers now living – Thomas Carlyle – chiefly known to the public as a German scholar and the friend of Goethe, but deeply respected by other leading intellects of the day, as a man who sees into the utmost recognized possibilities of knowledge. See what he thinks of war, and of the possibility of putting an end to it. We forget whether we got the extract from the Edinburgh or the Foreign Quarterly Review, having made it sometime back and mislaid the reference; and we take a liberty with him in mentioning his name as the writer, for which his zeal in the cause of mankind will assuredly pardon us.
“The better minds of all countries,” observes Mr Carlyle, “begin to understand each other, and, which follows naturally, to love each other and help each other, by whom ultimately all countries in all their proceedings are governed.
“Late in man’s history, yet clearly, at length, it becomes manifest to the dullest, that mind is stronger than matter – that mind is the creator and shaper of matter – that not brute force, but only persuasion and faith, is the King of this world. The true poet, who is but an inspired thinker, is still an Orpheus whose lyre tames the savage beasts, and evokes the dead rocks to fashion themselves into palaces and stately inhabited
cities. It has been said, and may be repeated, that literature is fast becoming all in all to us – our Church, our Senate, our whole social constitution. The true Pope of Christendom is not that feeble old man in Rome, nor is its autocrat the Napoleon, the Nicholas, with its half million even of obedient bayonets; such autocrat is
himself but a more cunningly-devised bayonet and military engine in the hands of a mightier than he. The true autocrat, or Pope, is that man, the real or seeming wisest of the last age; crowned after death; who finds his hierarchy of gifted authors, his clergy of assiduous journalists: whose decretals, written, not on parchment, but on the living souls of men, it were an inversion of the laws of nature to disobey. In these times of
ours, all intellect has fused itself into literature; literature – printed thought, is the molten sea and wonder-bearing chaos, in which mind after mind casts forth its opinion, its feeling, to be molten into the general mass, and to be worked there; interest after interest is engulfed in it, or embarked in it; higher, higher it rises round all the edifices of existence; they must all be molten into it, and anew bodied forth from it, or stand unconsumed among its fiery surges. Woe to him whose edifice is not built of true asbest, and
on the everlasting rock, but on the false sand and the drift-wood of accident, and the paper and parchment of antiquated habit! For the power or powers exist not on our earth that can say to that sea – roll back, or bid its proud waves be still.
“What form so omnipotent an element will assume – how long it will welter to and fro as a wild democracy, a wilder anarchy – what constitution and organization it will fashion for itself, and for what depends on it in the depths of time, is a subject for prophetic conjecture, wherein brightest hope is not unmingled with
fearful apprehensions and awe at the boundless unknown. The more cheering is this one thing, which we do see and know – that its tendency is to a universal European commonweal; that the wisest in all nations will communicate and co-operate; whereby Europe will again have its true Sacred College and council of Amphictyons; wars will become rarer, less inhuman; and in the course of centuries, such delirious ferocity in nations, as
in individuals it already is, may be proscribed and become obsolete for ever.”
My last and not least conclusive extract (for it shows the actual hold which these speculations have taken of the minds of practical men – of men out in the world, and even of soldiers) is from a book popular among all classes of readers – the Bubbles from the Brunnens of Nassau, written by Major Sir Francis Head. What he says of one country’s educating another, by the natural progress of books and opinion, and of the effect which this is likely to have upon governments even as remote and unwilling as Russia, is particularly worthy of attention.
The author is speaking of some bathers at whom he had been looking, and of a Russian Prince, who lets us into some curious information respecting the leading-strings in which grown gentlemen are kept by despotism: –
“For more than half an hour I had been indolently watching this amphibious scene, when the landlord
entering my room said, that the Russian Prince, G—-n, wished to speak to me on some business; and the information was scarcely communicated, when I perceived his Highness standing at the threshold of my door. With the attention due to his rank, I instantly begged he would do me the honour to walk in; and, after we had sufficiently bowed to each other, and that I had prevailed on my guest to sit down, I gravely requested him, as
I stood before him, to be so good as to state in what way I could have the good fortune to render him any service. The Prince very briefly replied, that he had called upon me, considering that I was the person in the hotel best capable (he politely inclined his head) of informing him by what route it would be most adviseable for him to proceed to London, it being his wish to visit my country.
“In order at once to solve this very simple problem, I silently unfolded and spread out upon the table my map of Europe; and each of us, as we leant over it, placing a forefinger on or near Wiesbaden (our eyes being fixed upon Dover), we remained in this reflecting attitude for some seconds, until the Prince’s finger first solemnly
began to trace its route. In doing this, I observed that his Highness’s hand kept swerving far into the Netherlands, so, gently pulling it by the thumb towards Paris, I used as much force as I thought decorous, to induce it to advance in a straight line; however, finding my efforts ineffectual, I ventured with respectful
astonishment, to ask, ‘Why travel by so uninteresting a route’?
“The Prince at once acknowledged that the route I had recommended would, by visiting Paris, afford him the greatest pleasure; but he frankly told me that no Russian, not even a personage of his rank, could enter that capital, without first obtaining a written permission from the Emperor.
“These words were no sooner uttered, than I felt my fluent civility suddenly begin to coagulate; the attention I paid my guest became forced and unnatural. I was no longer at my ease; and though I bowed, strained, and endeavoured to be, if possible, more respectful than ever, yet I really could hardly prevent my lips from muttering aloud, that I had sooner die a homely English peasant than live to be a Russian prince! – in short, his Highness’s words acted upon my mind like thunder upon beer. And, moreover, I could almost have sworn that I was an old lean wolf, contemptuously observing a bald ring rubbed by the collar, from the neck of a sleek, well-fed mastiff dog; however, recovering myself, I managed to give as much information as it was in my humble power to afford; and my noble guest then taking his departure, I returned to my open window, to give vent in solitude (as I gazed upon the horse bath) to my own reflection upon the subject.
“Although the petty rule of my life has been never to trouble myself about what the world calls ‘politics’- (a fine word, by the by, much easier expressed than understood) – yet, I must own, I am always happy when I see a nation enjoying itself, and melancholy when I observe any large body of people suffering pain or imprisonment. But of all sorts of imprisonment, that of the mind is, to my taste, the most cruel; and, therefore, when I
consider over what immense dominions the Emperor of Russia presides, and how he governs, I cannot help sympathizing most sincerely with those innocent sufferers, who have the misfortune to be born his subjects; for if a Russian Prince be not freely permitted to go to Paris, in what a melancholy state of slavery and debasement must exist the minds of what we call the lower classes?
“As a sovereign remedy for this lamentable political disorder, many very sensible people in England prescribe, I know, that we ought to have resource to arms. I must confess, however, it seems to me that one of the greatest political errors England could commit would be to declare, or to join in declaring, war with Russia; in
short, that an appeal to brute force would, at this moment, be at once most unscientifically to stop an immense moral engine, which, if left to its work, is quite powerful enough, without bloodshed, to gain for humanity, at no expense at all, its object. The individual who is, I conceive, to overthrow the Emperor of Russia – who
is to direct his own legions against himself – who is to do what Napoleon had at the head of his great army failed to effect, is the little child, who, lighted by the single wick of a small lamp, sits at this moment perched above the great steam press of the ‘Penny Magazine,’ feeding it, from morning till night, with blank papers, which, at almost every pulsation of the engine, comes out stamped on both sides with engravings, and with pages of plain, useful, harmless knowledge, which, by making the lower orders acquainted with foreign
lands, foreign productions, various states of society, &c., tend practically to inculcate ‘Glory
to God in the highest, and on earth peace – good will towards men.’ It has already been stated, that what proceeds from this press is now greedily devoured by the people of Europe; indeed, even at Berlin, we know it can hardly be reprinted fast enough.
“This child, then, – ‘this sweet little cherub that sits up aloft,’- is the only army that an enlightened country like ours should, I humbly think, deign to oppose to one who reigns in darkness – who trembles at day-light, and whose throne rests upon ignorance and despotism. Compare this mild, peaceful intellectual policy, with the dreadful, savage alternative of going to war, and the difference must surely be evident to everyone.
In the former case, we calmly enjoy, first of all, the pleasing reflection, that our country is generously imparting to the nations of Europe the blessing she is tranquilly deriving from the purification of civilization to her own mind; – far from wishing to exterminate, we are gradually illuminating the Russian peasant, we are mildly throwing a gleam of light upon the fetters of the Russian Prince; and surely every well-disposed person must see, that if we will only have patience, the result of this noble, temperate conduct, must produce all that reasonable beings can desire.” Bubbles from the Brunnens of Nassau, p. 164.
By the ‘Penny Magazine,’ our author means, of course, not only that excellent publication, but all cheaply-diffused knowledge – all the tranquil and enlightening deeds of “Captain Pen” in general – of whom it is pleasant to see the gallant Major so useful a servant, the more so from his sympathies with rank and the aristocracy. But “Pen” will make it a matter of necessity, by and by, for all ranks to agree with him, in vindication of their own wit and common sense; and when once this necessity is felt, and fastidiousness shall find out that it will be considered “absurd” to lag behind in the career of knowledge and the common good, the cause of the world is secure.
May princes and people alike find it out by the kindliest means, and without further violence. May they discover that no one set of human beings, perhaps no single individual, can be thoroughly secure and content, or enabled to work out his case with equal reasonableness, till all are so, – a subject for reflection, which contains, we hope, the beneficent reason why all are restless. The solution of the problem is co-operation – the means of solving it is the Press. If the Greeks had had a press, we should probably have heard nothing of the inconsiderate question, which demands, why they, with all their philosophy, did not alter the world. They had not the means. They could not command a general hearing. Neither had Christianity come up, to make men think of one another’s wants, as well as of their own accomplishments. Modern times possess those means, and inherit that divine incitement. May every man exert himself accordingly, and show himself a worthy inhabitant of this beautiful and most capable world!