William Hazlitt: Harpies of the press. Juggling fiends. Systematic opponents of peace. Ceaseless partisans of interminable hostilities.
From On the Courier and Times Newspapers (1814)
To produce such a passage, at such a moment, required that union of impudence and folly which has no parallel elsewhere. From the quarter from which it comes, it could not surprize us; it is consistent; it is in keeping; it is of a piece with the rest. It is worthy of those harpies of the press, whose business is to scare away the approach of peace by their obscene and dissonant noises, and to tear asunder the olive-branch, whenever it is held out to us, with their well-practised beaks; who fill their hearts with malice, and their mouths with falsehood; who strive to soothe the dastard passion of their employers by inflaming those of the multitude; creatures that would sell the lives of millions for a nod of greatness, and make their country a by-word in history, to please some punk of quality.
We are to understand from no less an authority than that of The Courier, that Lord Castlereagh is sent out professedly to make peace, but in reality to hinder it: and we learn from an authority equally respectable (The Times) that nothing can prevent the destruction of Bonaparte but this country’s untimely consenting to make peace with him. And yet we are told in the same breath, that the charge of eternal war which we bring against these writers, is the echo of the French war-faction, who, at the commencement of every series of hostilities, and at the conclusion of every treaty, have accused this country of a want of good faith and sincere disposition to peace. We are told, that if the French do not force Bonaparte to make peace now, which yet these writers are determined to prevent him from doing, ”they are sunk beneath the worshippers of cats and onions.” These “knavish but keen” politicians tell the French people in so many words – ” We will not make peace with your government, and yet, if it does not make peace with us, we will force what Government we please upon you.” What effect this monstrous and palpable insult must have upon the French nation, will depend upon the degree of sense and spirit they have left among them. But with respect to ourselves, if the line of policy pointed out by these juggling fiends is really meant to be pursued, if a pretended proposal to treat for peace on certain grounds is only to be converted into an insidious ground for renewed war for other purposes, if this offensive and unmanly imposture is to be avowed and practised upon us in the face of day, then we know what will be the duty of Parliament and of the country.
It is curious to hear these systematic opponents of peace, (with infuriate and insensate looks scattering firebrands and death,) at the same time affecting the most tender concern for the miseries of war; or like that good-natured reconciler of differences, Iago, hypocritically shifting the blame from themselves – “What, stab men in the dark!” They ask with grave faces, with very grave faces, “Who are the authors, the propagators, and practisers of this dreadful war system? who the aggressors? who the unrelenting persecutors of peace?” War is their everlasting cry,”one note day and night;” during war, during peace, during negotiation, in success, in adversity; and yet they dare to tax others as the sole authors of the calamities which they would render eternal, sooner than abate one jot of their rancorous prejudices…
But do not these persons also attach the highest degree of probability, or, when; they are so inclined, moral certainty, to every thing that tends to make peace unattainable?…But of this we are sure, from all experience, that the way to render the fruits of those reverses uncertain, or to defeat them altogether, is the very mode of proceeding recommended by the ceaseless partizans of interminable hostilities.
[T]he project of starving France in 1796 – of hurling her down the gulph of bankruptcy in 1797 – the coalitions of different periods in which England saved herself and Europe from peace by her energy, or her example – the contemptuous rejection of every offer of negotiation in every situation, the unwearied prosecution of the war on the avowed principle that we were never to leave it off as long as we could carry it on, or get any one to carry it on for us, or until we buried ourselves under the ruins of the civilized world (a prediction which we narrowly escaped verifying)…