« PreviousContinue »
ranny, and exultation at his fall. It cannot be denied that, at one period of his career, they regarded with apprehension, his power, influence, and authority; but it was because his unrivalled genius, sagacity, valour, and decision, rendered him more formidable jhan the antagonists with whom he had to grapple. The cry of disaffection and cowardice was raised against those who honestly expressed their sentiments upon the critical situation in which England was placed, on more than one occasion during the progress of the war, and who enforced the necessity of more active and efficient preparations. The Edinburgh Reviewers recommended a wise and a bold course. Regardless of the sneers and calumnies of the ministerial party, who lavished their abuse upon Napoleon, and thought courage and prowess were alone required to subdue him, they foresaw that great and well-combined efforts would be necessary for our own safety. Their object was, to show that victory could never be obtained but by a series of decided operations. It was weakness and imbecility which met with their constant and unqualified reprobation. They never condemned any well directed effort of England against the common foe. To adopt their own language, “while the pretended advocates of vigour vapoured on the sugar colonies, or punctured detached and remote parts of the French empire, they predicted the success of larger and more daring enterprises, with a confidence which could only be justified by a belief almost instinctive in the virtue and fortune of the British arms." Those who have read their strictures on the conduct of the war, in the early numbers of the work, cannot fail to perceive that, although they did not foresee the extraordinary events which gave a new and unexpected turn to the fortunes of Bonaparte, and determined his fate, yet the most important of their doctrines, and those, too, most loudly abused and perverted, were fully verified. *
They were blamed for recommending a pacificalory policy in 1807 and 1812. If their reasonings upon this delicate and intricate subject be dispassionately examined, no one can doubt their force and applicability to the circumstances of the limes, much less question the sincere desire of the writers to maintain, at all hazards, the safety of their country, and to preserve untarnished the lustre of her renown. To the obstacles which impeded the progress of conciliatory measures they were not insensible; and they proved, to the satisfaction of every candid judge, that those difficulties were to be found, as they alleged, “not only in the ambition and hypocrisy of Napoleon, but in the feelings and prejudices of a party in this country,” whose interests were advanced by a continuance of hostilities, and who profited by the corruption and spoliation of a war, entered upon rashly, and persisted in with unconquerable obstinacy, and without a wish, on their part, that it should terminate in an honourable and lasting peace.
From the commencement of the mighty contest in which all Europe was at length involved, the Edinburgh Review uniformly and earnestly advised a union of all the other great European powers against France, as the only effectual means of reducing her lo submission. In an able article, written after the battle of Waterloo, it is remarked, in reference to the sentiments and professions previously avowed in the Review, that "it was playing the game of the enemy, and casting away the last hope of the world, to
Reference is made to these articles, in a note to the last Essay in this work, under the head of " Forcign Politics." See alsn Edinburgh Review, vol. x.pl; and vel. xx. P. 213.
escite one or lwo nations to contest, till the co-operation of the rest could be scured. The fate of all former campaigns, and the sale of the last, have equally illustrated this observation. France rose more audaciously triumphant from the result of all these minor coalitions, and she fell before the first impulse of that great one which we had always recommended. Europe sunk into deeper despondency and humiliation from the impotent and premature attempts which we had ventured to deprecate; and she was restored at once by that united effort, from which alone we had always said that her salvation was to be expected.
"Our other leading doctrine was, that there was but little hope of an ellectual resistance to France till the body of the people, in the different nations of Europe, could be made to take part heartily with their governments in the cause; — and here, too, the event has corresponded with our prediction. The greater part of the late wars against France were undertaken by the respective courts who were engaged in them, without any regard to the disposition of their people, who were long indifferent, and in many instances disaffected, to the cause. Their success, accordingly, was such as might have been expected. But after repeated shocks of national misforlune had thrown the sovereigns more entirely on the attachment of their people, and especially after these people had successively tasted of the bitterness of French dominion, and learned by experience the miserable fate that awaited the victims of such a foe, the war assumed a different complexion, and was waged with a different spirit;-campaigns became obstinate, and supplies inexhaustible. The ardour of the troops encouraged their leaders to be enterprising; and it soon appeared that thrones might be overturned, while nations remained unconquered.
“ These, we think, were the chief of our heresies ; and we really cannot perceive that the events of the last six months should bring shame to their supporters ; and least of all in a country where the war against France has always been successful, precisely because it has been the war of the people, and because the people were free.”
Another charge brought against the conductors of the Edinburgh Review was, that the overthrow of Bonaparte gave them no real satisfaction, and that the tenour of their writings, in reference to that wonderful man, was to inculcate the expediency of a passive submission to his domination. So far from this being the fact, abundant extracts might be taken, from various articles, written for the express purpose of recording their admiration of the honourable distinction to which England attained by her successful resistance to the despotism of an able and ambitious soldier. Her courage, ardour, and indomitable energy were the theme of their warmest praise; but they condemned the errors committed in the conduct of the war, and exposed the mistaken policy of the government, by which the resources of the nation were lavished, and her blood spilled, in the prosecution of expeditions which crippled her power, impaired her strength, and tarnished her laurels. With regard to their fallibility as political prophets, it is certainly not a matter for severe reprehension that they did not foresee that Bonaparte would march an army into the heart of Russia, as if in defiance of ihe elements; and had it noi been for his unaccountable infaluation in this instance, he might have remained till his death Emperor of France, in defiance of the combined efforts of the crowned heads of Europe.
On a calm retrospect of all that has been wrillen in the Edinburgh Review concerning the character and designs of Napoleon, an unprejudiced
judge will acquit it of an improper leaning in his favour. It execrated those excesses of arbitrary power which proved his hostility to political liberly and human happiness; but, in his adversity, when his “unprincipled aggressions drove him into that league which rolled back the iide of ruin on himself, and ultimately hurled him into the insignificance from which he originally sprung,” it did not insult him by personal indignilies and slanders ; did not attempt to tarnish his renown by the most atrocious calumnies; it did not depreciate his talents and genius. his downfall it rejoiced, as a catastrophe favourable, in its probable results, to the cause of freedom. His detention and solitary confinement it defended, as indispensable lo the tranquillity of Europe; but it did not trample on the reverence due to a stupendous intellect, even when prostituted to objects of personal ambition, by recommending a system of petty annoyance, which, whilst it added to the bitterness of the prisoner's exile, reflected lasting disgrace upon ils abettors and defenders.
The political speculations of the Edinburgh Review with respect to Spain have been the subject of sarcasm without point, and of abuse without justice. In the first place, it is totally false, that the efforts of that country against its oppressors were commented upon, in that journal, with a feeling of coldness and reluctance. That the power of the Spaniards lo liberate themselves, without assistance from other countries, was doubled; and that there were many circumstances in their character and condition unfavourable to their final triumph, have been proved by the testimony of many engaged in the contest, whose veracity none will venture to impeach. What then was the great error of the Edinburgh Reviewers? They affirined that “no country ever did so little for itself under circumstances of such excitement and encouragement. It has been liberated,” say they, “entirely by British valour and British enterprise ; and though its liberation, by any means, is a worthy subject of joy and exultation, it is impossible to reflect, without regret, that a population of more than twelve millions of brave, zealous, and idle persons, has been found so unavailable for its own defence, that it cannot be trusted even to bar the return of its baffled and vanquished invaders whom our arms have expelled. Had it not been for this unfortunate, and, to us, unaccountable inefficiency of the Spanish force, the army of Lord Wellington might long ere this have joined the Allies in front of Paris, and shared the honours of a contest that would then have been both less sanguinary and less doubtful. We have no doubt of the hatred which the Spaniards bear to the French, nor of their individual bravery; and agree with all the world, in admiring the heroic defence which was made by two of their towns against the fearful force of their besiegers; but it cannot be disguised, thal, as a nation, they have made no efforts at all answerable to the occasion that called for them: and though Spain has been the theatre of great and glorious exploits against the common foe, the Spaniards have, in general, been found in the place, not of actors, but spectators.
To the correctness of these opinions, though they were unpopular when first promulgated, and brought discredit upon their advocales, the most conclusive testimony has been borne by Colonel Napier and other
Edinburgh Review, vol. xxij p. 153
eye-witnesses of the Spanish campaign, who enjoyed the best opportuDilies of forming an unbiassed judgment of the events by which it was distinguished, and of the characters of the parties concerned. Whatever doubt, therefore, was expressed as to the result of the struggle in which the Spaniards were engaged, did not arise from an unpatriotic indifference to the cause, but from an intimate knowledge of the internal resources and condition of the country, and the national characteristics of the people. That the course of events did not, in all respects, correspond with the predictions of the Edinburgh Review, is a circumstance ill calculated to excite surprise, much less to provoke anger. Its views on the Spanish question were based upon something more than a superficial acquaintance with the existing circumstances of the country; and the censures prorounced upon them by contemporary writers were not the result of superior information, but of a disposition to vilify the character of a publication, which was as far beyond the reach of their power to injure, as of their capacity to imitate its excellence.
In connexion with the measures of the British government growing out of the war, it would not be just to pass over withoul notice the Essays on the memorable Orders in Council, which, it will be remembered, were issued in 1807. Much prejudice and ignorance prevailed respecting those decrees, until their disastrous effects upon the commerce, and consequently upon the wealth and prosperity, of England were clearly demonstrated by Mr. Brougham, in the House of Commons, and by that portion of the periodical press which supported his views. The conspicuous part which the Edinburgh Reviewers took in this discussion subjected them to the most degrading impulations. The partisans of government aspersed their motives, and accused them of aiding Bonaparte, in conjunction with the rebels of America, in his schemes of universal dominion. The most unworthy means were employed to excite popular clamour against those who foretold the effects of these pernicious enactments. It happened, that their forebodings were realised in the most remarkable manner; and, after an arduous struggle, common sense and sound principles triumphed over the mistaken policy of the ministry. To the energy and information of those who undertook to enlighten the public mind on this question, England is deeply indebted.
The abolition of the Orders in Council would not have taken place at the time it did, had not the public voice become too strong for ministers to withstand. The appeals and arguments of the public that the interests of the commercial portion of the community would be essentially promoted by the adoption of that salutary measure.
The doctrines promulgated by that journal, on the foreign policy of England, from the settlement of the assairs of Europe in 1814 to the present time, as well as previously to that date, are favourable to the cause of liberal principles, and hostile to all oppression, whether committed by
“ Napoleon, by the Bourbons, or by the agents of our own government. Liberty has found in it a sincere support, whether invaded by foreign or by Eoglish hands; and public crimes have met with an undaunted reprobation, whether perpetrated by the enemy in Spain, Switzerland, Holland, -or by England, on the seas, in the East Indies, in Ireland, or at Copenhagen, or, worst of all, by her allies in Saxony, in Norway, and in Poland.'
* See Edinburgh Review, vol. xxiv. p. 131.
That this is not the language of unmerited panegyric, it is only necessary to refer, generally, to the admirable Essays in the Review on the American War, and on the proceedings of the Congress of Vienna, and the designs of the Holy Alliance; on Poland, Norway, Genoa, Saxony, Spain, Portugal, and France, down to the late revolution.
Under the head of “ Foreign Politics,” a valuable selection of articles of this kind has been made ; though the limits of the work were not of sufficient extent to warrant the insertion of all that were entitled to a place from their intrinsic merit. The first article is on the “Copenhagen Expedition.” It opens with a brief sketch of the state of affairs on the continent of Europe, at the period when that expedition took place. The question is then discussed, whether it was conformable to the laws of political justice, and whether its necessity could be demonstrated from the existence of immediate and imminent danger. The object of the writer is to prove, that no apprehension of remote and contingent peril was a sufficient apology for such an aggression on a neutral power. The arguments in defence of the measure are examined, and shown to be fallacious.
The second essay is on the “ Transference of Norway." It is an argumentative production, strongly condemnatory of that transaction. The facts are first detailed, which convey to the reader an accurate idea of the design and character of the undertaking. Cogent reasons are adduced to show that England was not bound to wage war with Norway. This point having been elucidated, a statement is brought forward of relations subsisting between Denmark and Norway, for the purpose of showing that the “ latter was as completely an independent realm as Denmark or Sweden itself, and could in no respect be considered as a province of the Danish crown. The question is then tried on the ground of authority and precedent. Grotius and Vattel are quoted in defence of the principles laid down by the author, who contends, that precedents could not justify the act, any more than they could the African slave trade or the partition of Poland. The inconsistencies in the reasonings of those who advocated the act of transference are exposed in a felicitous vein of irony; and their favourite argument, that the incorporation with Sweden was advantageous to Norway, is ridiculed as a flimsy sophism. Facts are produced to prove the falsehood of that statement, and to establish the position, that the union was not calculated to improve the condition of the Norwegians. The writer remarks, that it was under“ similar pretences, the most detestable of crimes ever perpetrated by a government, were begun and concluded; as, for example, ihe Partition of Poland ; and when France purchased from Genoa the island of Corsica, in 1768; and, lastly, the African Slave Trade,” which, it is well known, was defended on the hollow pretext, that it was an act of mercy and humanity to expatriate the negroes from their own barbarous country, and put them under the civilised yoke of British West Indians. This disquisition concludes with a summary of the evils resulting from the act of transference, amongst which the most prominent is the tendency it had in the words of the Reviewer) “ to shake to the very foundations the wholesome principle so happly inculcated by England, that she was the protector of national independence, and the enemy of unjust aggression all over the world.”
The second war with America forms the subject of several profound discussions in the Edinburgh Review. Two articles on this question have been assigned to the division of “ Foreign Politics." The first is devoted to