Page images

you ?

has married a heartless jilt, and awoke out of that absurd vision of conjugal felicity which was to last for ever, and is over like any other dream. One and the other has made his bed, and so must lie in it, until that final day, when life ends, and they sleep separate.

We must make room for another picture of “domestic happiness," which, however coarsely painted, may be true enough if once you admit the premises ; though such a “love-lamp” as Mr. Thackeray places on his shrine, is but a vessel of the basest clay :

Much of the quarrels and hatred which arise between married people come, in my mind, from the husband's rage and revolt at discovering that his slave and bedfellow, who is to minister to all his wishes, and is Church-sworn to honour and obey him, is the superior ; and tliat he, and not she, ought to be the subordinate of the twain ; and in these controversies, I think, lay the cause of my lord's anger against his lady. When he left her, she began to think for herself, and her thoughts were not in his favour. After the illumination, when the love-lamp is put out that anon we spoke of, and by the common daylight you look at the picture, what a daub it looks !—what a clumsy effigy! How many men and wives come to this knowledge, think

And if it be painful for a woman to find herself mated for life to a boor, and ordered to love and honour a dullard, it is worse still for the man himself, perhaps, whenever in his dim comprehension the idea dawns that his slave and drudge yonder is, in truth, his superior ; that the woman who does his bidding, and submits to his humour, should be his lord ; that she can think a thousand things beyond the power of his muddled brains; and that in yonder head, on the pillow opposite to him, lie a thousand feelings, mysteries of thought, latent scorns and rebellions, whereof he only dimly perceives the existence as they look out furtively from her eyes : treasures of love doomed to perish without a hand to gather them ; sweet fancies and images of beauty that would grow and unfold themselves into flower ; bright wit, that would shine like diamonds could it be brought into the sun; and the tyrant in possession crushes the outbreak of all these, drives them back like slaves into the dungeon and the darkness, and chafes without that his prisoner is rebellious, and his sworn subject undutiful and refractory.

From the mortified husband to the tyrannous ruler over his family Mr. Thackeray makes an easy gradation :

And so it is, and for his rule over his family, and for his conduct to wife and children-subjects over whom his power is monarchical—any one who watches the world must think with trembling sometimes of the account which many a man will have to render. For, in our society, there is no law to control the King of the Fireside. He is master of property, happiness—life, almost. He is free to punish, to make happy or unhappy, to ruin, or to torture. He may kill a wife gradually, and be no more questioned than the Grand Seignior-who drowns å slave at midnight. He may make slaves and hypocrites of his children ; or friends and freemen; or drive them into revolt and enmity against the natural law of love. I have heard politicians and coffee-house wiseacres talking over the newspaper, and railing at the tyranny of the French King, and the Emperor, and wondered how these (who are monarchs too, in their way) govern their own dominions at home, where each man rules absolute? When the annals of each little reign are shown to the Supreme Master, under whom we hold sovereignty, histories will be laid bare of household tyrants as cruel as Amurath, and as savage as Nero, and as reckless and dissolute as Charles.

We are not seeking to deny that instances of this condition of things may not be found in real life, or that many of us cannot attest its existence by our own experience; but that which we take for an exception Mr. Thackeray adopts as a rule. Or, if it be not intended by him for universal application, he, at all events, does nothing to neutralise the effect of his scene-painting. Search his volumes through, and where do you find the antidote to the poison whose presence he so loudly proclaims? * None are all evil;" some redeeming traits appear, even among the worst; but when once Mr. Thackeray has got hold of a bad subject he never leaves it so long as a white spot remains that can be blackened. What would have been easier for one of his genius, than to have shown in what the blessings of domestic life really consist ; of what materials that man is made who goes to his grave with “honour, love, obedience, troops of friends ?" But no, Mr. Thackeray is enamoured of his portrait of Sir John Brute, and hangs it in his gallery alone, neglecting the artistic precaution of giving stronger point to his satire by the force of contrast.

But whatever may be the defects of Mr. Thackeray's philosophy, or however he may allow himself to be swayed by the tendency to find a flaw in the most “ precious porcelain” (which he would call “ crockery')-we have a more serious cause of quarrel with him than any

that can arise from human nature misappreciated.

We might content ourselves with an expression of regret that one who so closely examines motives, and who so frequently shows that he can think and feel none more rightly, should prefer to draw the least generous conclusions; but when, instead of motives misunderstood, we find historical reputations blackened--and this, as far as we can perceive, out of mere wantonness-a much stronger feeling than regret finds place within our breasts. Of what use, we ask, is History (“the stately muse of History," Mr. Thackeray calls her), of what advantage Fame, where is the profit of a lofty name, to what end have men the most illustrious lived, if at the mere whim of a popular novelist—we have cause for not saying his conviction-the memory of the great shall be branded with the foulest obloquy ? Yet in this caprice, to call it by no harsher term, Mr. Thackeray has indulged, with respect to the Duke of Marlborough, the man who—in more than one point of view-stands second only, in the estimation of his countrymen, to the hero whose loss we still deplore!

We may be told that Marlborough's personal character is not of so doubtful a kind as to be shaken by the transient breath of fiction, and had the calumnies against him been uttered by a writer of less celebrity than Mr. Thackeray, we could have afforded to pass over them in silence ; but, aroused by the authority of a name like his, there are thousands who will pin their faith on his assertions, and it is to counteract this belief that we vindicate the reputation of Marlborough. It must be observed, moreover, that “Esmond” is not to be considered in the light of an ordinary novel. By a long and arduous course of study, the results of which have been carefully placed before the public in another and a highly popular form, Mr. Thackeray has made himself master of the history of the time of which he most eloquently treats ; and, though he wears the mask of fiction, it is quite evident that he wishes the language he now speaks to be received as gospel. There is so much of actual fact in the historical details, and so great an air of reality in the manner of the fictitious narrator, that those who have not fairly given their attention to the subject may be readily deceived, and easily induced to adopt the author's views, though,

if they examine the mode in which the argument is conducted, its insincerity and unjustifiable nature will at once become evident.

We are far from saying that there were not many features in the character of Marlborough which left him far beneath the standard of perfection. His most friendly biographer, Archdeacon Coxe, admits his parsimony, in matters of a personal nature, and, with reference to his political career, regrets the duplicity which he practised in his correspondence with the exiled family of James II., “to whose expulsion he so much contributed.” But nowhere, since the date of the publication of the New Atlantis, do we find anything so vilifying as the assertions which perpetually recur in “ Esmond” accusing Marlborough of infamy more degrading than can be conceived of any one holding the position and aspiring to the name of “gentleman.” It might have been expected of the venal scribe, whom Swift suborned to traduce the great man of the day, that her vile words should “ lie like truth, and still most truly lie,” but that Mr. Thackeray should condescend

To do for hate what Manley did for hire, is a thing to sorrow and be amazed at.

That our comments may justify themselves, we cite the following pa3. sages, with the reason for them, which succeeds. This is Mr. Thackeray's full-length portrait of the greatest man of his age:

Our chief, whom England and all Europe, saving only the Frenchmen, worshipped almost, had this of the god-like in him, that he was impassible before victory, before danger, before defeat. Before the greatest obstacle, or the most trivial ceremony ; before a hundred thousand men drawn in battalia, or a peasant slaughtered at the door of his burning hovel ; before a carouse of drunken German lords, or a monarch's court, or a cottage table, where his plans were laid, or an enemy's battery, vomiting flame and death, and strewing corpses round about him ;-he was always cold, calm, resolute, like fate. He performed a treason or a court-bow; he told a falsehood as black as Styx as easily as he paid a compliment or spoke about the weather. He took a mistress, and left her; he betrayed his benefactor, and supported him, or would have murdered him, with the same calmness always, and having no more remorse than Clotho, when she weaves the thread, or Lachesis, when she cuts it. In the hour of battle I have heard the Prince of Savoy's officers say, the prince became possessed with a sort of warlike fury ; his eyes lighted up; he rushed hither and thither, raging; he shrieked curses and encouragement, yelling and harking his bloody war-dogs on, and himself always at the first of the hunt. Our duke was as calm at the mouth of the cannon as at the door of a drawing-room. Perhaps he could not have been the great man he was had he had a heart either for love or hatred, or pity or fear, or regret or remorse. He achieved the highest deed of daring, or deepest calculation of thought, as he performed the very meanest action of which a man is capable; told a lie, or cheated a fond woman, or robbed a poor beggar of a halfpenny with a like awful serenity and equal capacity of the highest and lowest acts of our nature. His qualities were pretty well known in the army, where there were parties of all politicks, and of plenty of shrewdness and wit; but there existed such a perfect confidence in him, as the first captain of the world, and such a faith and admiration in his prodigious genius and fortune, that the very men whom he notoriously cheated of their pay, the chiefs whom he used and injured-(for he used all men, great and small, that came near him, as his instruments alike, and took something of theirs, either some quality or some propertythe blood of a soldier, it might be, or a jewelled hat, or a hundred thousand crowns from a king, or a portion out of a starving sentinel's three farthings; or (when he was young) a kiss from a woman, and the gold chain off her neck, taking all he could from woman or man, and having, as I have

said, this of the god-like in him, that he could see a hero perish, or a sparrow fall, with the same amount of sympathy for either. Not that he had no tears; he could always order up this reserve at the proper moment to battle; he could draw upon tears or smiles alike, and whenever need was for using this cheap coin. He would cringe to a shoeblack, as he would flatter a minister or a monarch; be haughty, be humble, threaten, repent, weep, grasp your hand, or stab you whenever he saw occasion)-But yet those of the army who knew him best and had suffered most from him, admired him most of all ; and as he rode along the lines to battle, or galloped up in the nick of time to a battalion reeling from before the enemy's charge or shot, the fainting men and officers got new courage as they saw the splendid calm of his face, and felt that his will made them irresistible.

And now for Mr. Thackeray's justification. His “hero," Esmond, says:

Should a child of mine take the pains to read these, his ancestor's memoirs, I would not have him judge of the Great Duke by what a cotemporary has written of him. No man hath been so immensely lauded and decried as this first statesman and warrior; as, indeed, no man ever deserved better the greatest praise and the strongest censure. If the present writer joins with the latter faction, very likely a private pique of his own may be the cause of his illfeeling.

And he goes on to say:

A word of kindness or acknowledgment, or a single glance of approbation, might have changed Esmond's opinion of the great man; and instead of a satire, which his pen cannot help writing, who knows but that the humble historian might have taken the other side of panegyrick? We have but to change the point of view, and the greatest action looks mean; as we turn the perspectiveglass, and a giant appears a pigmy.

Is not this a monstrous doctrine, thus to falsify history for purposes of fiction, and then build upon that falsification as if the premises were true? And what a mean-spirited scoundrel the “hero" appears—this preux chevalier, who, we are told, has only to appear among a tribe of Indians to be elected their Sachem—who avows a motive for his conduct so unworthy as that which “ Esmond” confesses! Fiction has, in all times, claimed great latitude, but never a wider than in the present instance, nor one more utterly unworthy.

But sometimes Mr. Thackeray gives us his authority” for the scandal which he heaps on Marlborough's head. Take an example, as brief as it is convincing, at page 25, vol. iii. So and so, he says, “Mr. St. John told the writer.The writer! A fiction, a man of straw, a dummy“ a weak invention of the enemy!" Had St. John told Swift, and had the latter put the matter on record, we might perchance have paused to listen to the tale; but when not only the scandal itself, but its historian is invented for the occasion, we know the precise amount of value to be attached to it.

If, however, there be a great man to pull down, Mr. Thackeray-contrary to his usual practice in ethics—has another to set up in his stead. This demigod is General Webb! He, too, was “great,” in one sense of the word -- a perfect Goliath in stature, a good soldier withal, who did excellent service with the army in Flanders and elsewhere, on many occasions, and was certainly not well treated about the affair of Wynendael, where he, and not Cadogan, saved the convoy destined for the besieging Dec.-VOL. XCVI. NO. CCCLXXXIV.

2 K


army before Lille, though he was barely mentioned in the despatch which conveyed official intelligence of the important event. But there is no doubt that Marlborough endeavoured to repair an omission which was most likely unintentional, for in his letters to Lord Godolphin-before any remonstrance on the part of Webb was made--we find him repeatedly recommending that general for promotion on account of the skill and bravery which he had shown on the occasion adverted to. On the 27th of September, 1708, he writes:

Webb and Cadogan have on this occasion, as they always will do, behaved themselves extremely well. The success of this vigorous action is, in a great measure, owing to them.

I should not be doing them justice, if I did not beg the Queen, that when this campaign shall be ended, she will be pleased to make a promotion of the generals in this army only, which will be a mark of her favour and their merit.

Writing from Rousselaer, on October 9th, in the same year, he says.:

Major-General Webb goes for England ; I write to her Majesty by him. I hope she will be pleased to tell him, that she is very well satisfied with his services, and that when she makes a promotion this winter, he may be sure of being a lieutenant-general, which really this last action makes his due.

From Oudenarde, November 28th, he writes :

I cannot end this without telling you that I very much approve of Mr.Webb's being gratified with a Government, but I do not think it for her Majesty's service to give a promise before the vacancy happens, especially since he shall be made a lieutenant-general this winter.

Yet, in spite of these indisputable records, Mr. Thackeray champions his Goliath as the most ill-used“ son of Anak" since the days of Jack the Giant Killer; though, with singular inconsistency, he speaks of Webb's “rancour against the duke," of the intensity of Mrs. Webb's “ hatred” for the great commander, of Webb having " said a thousand things against him” which his superior had pardoned, and of “his grace” having “heard a thousand things more that Webb had never said ;" adding--as if it were not the height of magnanimity in the man whom Esmond is constantly maligning—“But it cost this great man no pains to pardon; and he passed over an injury or a benefit alike easily."

But Esmond scruples at no assertion that can damage the fame of Marlborough. He not only revives the refuted calumny of his taking money from women for the sake of his handsome person, but insists upon it wherever the accusation can be lugged in. He is for ever assigning the most unworthy motives for all his actions—such, for example, as his reasons for fighting the battle of Malplaquet, and protracting of the siege of Lille ; and, though he does not actually go the length of accusing the Duke of Marlborough of having instigated Lord Mohun to challenge the Duke of Hamilton to the duel, which was fatal to them both, he insinuates nearly as much:

That party to which Lord Mohun belonged had the benefit of his service, and now were well rid of such a ruffian. He, and Meredith, and Macartney, were the Duke of Marlborough's men; and the two colonels had been broke but the year before for drinking perdition to the Tories. His grace was a Whig now and a Hanoverian, and as eager for war as Prince Eugene himself

. I say not that he was privy to Duke Hamilton's death, I say that his party

« PreviousContinue »