« PreviousContinue »
by whom our country is governed, but to the country herself, and her national renown and prosperity; no less than to the eternal distinctions of right and wrong, and the principles of justice and humanity. We can understand and tolerate the feelings of those Englishmen, who, while they sincerely rejoice in Buonaparte's fall, and in the laurels won by their country, have felt a wish that the guidance of measures so successful had rested with their own political favourites. We can tolerate those old-fashioned whigs
• Who greatly venerate our martial glories,
And wish they were not owing to the tories.' But we, certainly, were somewhat surprized, to find an English historian of Napoleon's overthrow, omitting all mention of the British army and the Duke of Wellington among the causes wbich led to it. We did not anticipate the possibility that a British soldier, of whatever political party, could have mentioned or alluded to the field of Waterloo in terms of depreciation and indifference; or that Sir Robert Wilson, above all, should become the eulogist of Buonaparte, and the apologist of those very actions which his own pen was the first to point out to general horror and execration!
For a change like this last no tolerable excuse can be pleaded. It is not a change in opinion occasioned by the discovery of facts before unknown; it is not the amends which an honourable mind is ever forward to make to a person whom he had unknowingly misrepresented. The facts remain the same, now that he seeks to extenuate them, as when he roused, against the massacre and poisoning of Jaffa, the indignation of the civilized world. Yet it then never occurred to him that Buonaparte was justified in the murder of those prisoners from whom he could apprehend no possible danger, because, in a barbarous age,--amid the confusion of a doubtful victory, and the alarm of a renewed attack on his already exhausted army,--our Henry the Fifth issued (but, be it recollected, immediately recalled) an order of the like bloody character.---p. 68. It is the heart, not the opinion, which has been in this instance, changed; the feelings which are perverted, not the judgment which is convinced ;-he is angry with his own country; he mourns for Buonaparte; and to sentiments of this kind, his sentiments (for what reason he best knows) of right and wrong are accounted but a trivial sacrifice.
Over infirmities like these it would be the part of ancient friendship to draw a veil, and we owe so much to Sir Robert Wilson's former exertions in the cause of freedom and civil government, that we should have gladly passed over the present work in silence, did not the degree of notoriety which it has excited, and the momentous importance of the questions discussed in it, compel us to examine more closely what, in itself, deserves but little attention, and would
hardly have outlived the monthly packet of Tristia' from St. Helena, if it had not been universally ascribed to the historian of the Egyptian war.
It is not unworthy of notice that, while these observations are addressed to England, in English, against the exorbitant power of Russia, the Abbé de Pradt (to whose former work on the Congress of Vienna, Sir Robert Wilson is very much obliged) is deafening Russia and the other continental powers with outcries against the irresistible navy and intolerable monopoly of England. We once thought of bringing these worthies face to face, and allowing them to confute each other. But on the Abbé de Pradt we have already bestowed enough of our time, and, in truth, but little would be gained by exposing the inconsistency of clamours intended for different ears, and calculated to stimulate the evil passions of opposite parties. What do the jacobins care for the agreement or disagreement of those authors, who, whether intentionally or not, are serving their cause, and giving currency to their malignant insinuations ? It is enough for them to make Russia and England hate and distrust each other,--but it would be glorious indeed if they could persuade the watchman to let in the wolf for fear of being bitten by the mastiff, or induce the guardians of St. Helena, out of pure regard for the peace of mankind, to recall those good old times and that approved detester of bloodshed, under whose gentle rule the nations were gathered together, till the flowery band was broken by Blucher and Wellington !
Sir Robert Wilson, having explained the motives for his publication, begins by certain aweful truisms with which every one was previously acquainted, such as that Russia is comparatively a new power in Europe,-that Peter the First was the founder of her greatness,-but that the Empress Catherine made considerable conquests,-and then proceeds to state with equal confidence, that the partition of Poland was a contrivance of Russian policy, and that Prussia and Austria were only panders to the ambitious views of their mighty neighbour,
Poland was a central bulwark, which, by connecting Stockholm and Constantinople, and indenting itself into the Russian military line of defence, rendered successes obtained still precarious, and a subjugated people restless subjects. Favourable moments were seized. The most important position in Europe for her preservation was occupied (two great European powers assisting, whilst the others remained supine spectators), and a warlike independent nation, which formed the garrison, was partitioned as lawful spoil amongst the pretended guardians “ of her safety and tranquillity."
Now all this is the mere vulgar error of those coffee-house polițicians of Paris, and those borough patriots of Southwark, who
have never ceased to hate and calumniate Russia as the most formjdable antagonist of their idol Buonaparte ; and who, even now, can hardly forgive Sir Robert Wilson his former exertions in her favour. Poland, at the time of its partition, was not the bulwark of Europe; she was not even, in any thing more than name, an independent nation. For twenty years before she had been as effectually under the tutelage of Russia, as Holland and Spain, notwithstanding their nominal kings, were under that of Buonaparte. The warlike' spirit of Poland was only formidable to her own citizens; the republican party was dispersed or dispirited; the king was surrounded by Russian guards; the leading members of the diet were avowedly in the interest and the pay of Russia; Stanislaus Poniatowsky was the creature of that court, and a discarded minion of the Empress Catherine; and the real effective sovereignty resided in the person of the Russian ambassador. Under such circumstances, of which it is absurd to suppose Sir Robert Wilson ignorant, it is something strange to maintain that Russia could desire the partition of a country of which the whole was, to almost all necessary objects, at her disposal,—or the extinction of a nominal kingdom which she has since taken the earliest opportunity of reviving. And it is a fact, we believe, as well known as any other in the modern history of Europe, that the plan of partition originated exclusively with Prussia, that it was proposed to Russia in the last instance, and after the concurrence of Austria had been obtained; and that Russia was induced, with great reluctance, and by the pressure of the Turkish war, to an arrangement obviously intended to raise a stronger barrier to her influence than was afforded by the mock independence of Poland. That all the three powers behaved most infamously, there can be no question; but, so far from accelerating, it is probable that the partition has retarded the subjection of the entire Polish kingdom to Russia. What Sir Robert Wilson has written, however, on this subject, is no insufficient specimen of the historical accuracy and political reasoning of the present volume.
There is one fact, which Sir Robert Wilson has mentioned in this stage of his treatise, and which, though not new, (indeed which of his facts are new ?) we shall beg our readers to bear in mind, namely, that` Suvorof never could bring into the field an army of 40,000 effective men.'— p. 8.
Sir Robert Wilson proceeds to furnish us the important intelligence that the Emperor Paul had laid a plan of marching to India—that he was assassinated by his nobles and soldiery--that the Emperor Alexander was brought up by La Harpe, and was a prince of great promise—that the battles of Austerlitz, Jena, &c. were gained by Buonaparte,--and all this idle prattle, which might have been heard in every bookseller's shop, and read in every newspaper on the continent, is plentifully interspersed with italics, as if the facts disclosed were of momentous interest and novelty.
We are now, however, advancing to more recent times, and times in which the information of the author might, if ever, be expected to be really original and valuable. And here, we confess, we were a little surprized to learn that, in the campaign of Moscow, Buonaparte was really successful that his gigantic project was executed in all those parts which opposed, as had been presumed, insurmountable obstacles to his success ;'--that he had rendered the re-establishment of Poland an optional measure;' that his advance on Moscow, which vanity dictated, to commemorate the glory of the conquest, could have been attended with no disaster or even inconvenience, if political speculations had not induced a continuation in that capital beyond twenty days;'—and that, after all, the French army would have regained their position on the Dwina and Boristhenes without any serious injury, bad it not been for a sudden intense frost, and a total neglect to provide horse-shoes suitable to the climate, excepting for Napoleon's own horses !'--pp. 23, 24. .
If Buonaparte had really, as is here supposed, the option of reestablishing Poland, it is manifest that the half measures which he pursued, and the manner in which he trifled with the expectations of that unfortunate country, were unworthy of a great and liberal politician,—no less than an advance to Moscow, dictated by vanity only, was unworthy of an experienced captain. Again: to advance to Moscow without an object, and with the previous intention of retreating immediately, was a strange way of adıninistering to the vanity of his troops ; since the world, we believe, is generally apt to suspect some ulterior views in all such forward movements, and to construe a return of the kind contemplated by Sir Robert Wilson into something like defeat and discomfiture. When Masseria retired from Portugal, we believe the vanity of his soldiers was not very greatly elevated by their having advanced to the neighbourhood of Lisbon,-nor did he venture to tell the world that, when he commenced his invasion of that country, he had never calculated on doing more. There was an ancient king of France, whose prowess to this effect is celebrated in the songs of our child hood. But, to march up a hill' with the express and sole intention of marching down again' was surely far less absurd than the act of conducting an army three hundred miles, from Wilna to Moscow, for no better reason than to say that he had been there. Nor do we think so meanly of Buonaparte's abilities as to suppose that, if he had really set out from Poland with the intention of returning thither before the winter shut in, he would bave neglected to provide magazines for the support of his retreating arıny; or that so obvious a precaution as proper horse-shoes would have been forgotten, if his retreat, when it took place, had been an expected or even a voluntary measure. Of course we cannot contest, with an officer of Sir Robert Wilson's experience, the question how far an army, infantry and all, may be destroyed for want of being rough-shod ; --we will not even stay to inquire, whether the author would have himself suggested King Lear's delicate stratagem,' of using felt for that purpose, over icy roads. But it is somewhat strange that, if the want of horse-shoes had been so total and calamitous in the French army as he supposes, not one of the different military writers, who were partakers in its sufferings, should bave enumerated this among the causes of its exemplary destruction.
To a sudden, though not, as Sir Robert Wilson supposes, an unusually severe or early frost, we are as fully disposed as he can be, to ascribe the completion of that ruin which overthrew the hopes of the mighty. But we must also persist in joining to this aweful interposition of Heaven, the infatuated and overweening confidence of Buonaparte in his own power and destiny, an infatuation which led him to aim at the overturn of Russia when he ought to have applied all his efforts to the renovation of Poland, and which induced him to linger in a dismantled city, at a season when every hour was valuable, and when at every moment that frost might be looked for which found him, at last, unprepared.
There is yet another cause of Buonaparte's overthrow, to which Sir Robert Wilson attaches less importance than we do—we mean the admirable discipline and bravery of the Russian army; backed, as it was in the whole extent of country which the invader traversed, by the loyalty and zeal of a hardy and, on the whole, (as Sir Robert Wilson truly states,) a happy and prosperous peasantry, with whom his troops found it impossible to establish a friendly communication, and who were as warmly interested for the honour of Russia as the proudest nobles of Moscow. Where our author picked up his rumour of proposals made to Napoleon, and refused by him, for exciting a servile war, we cannot tell. No doubt there are, in all countries, men of disappointed hopes and desperate characters, who are ready to undertake or suggest any scheme, however wicked or preposterous, in behalf of a public enemy. But, we will venture to say, the author of this proposal (if such a proposal were really made) was as ignorant as the French themselves were of the Muscovite character, if he believed that their peasants, even the most oppressed and discontented among them, would join tlie cause of a Niemetsky invader.*
As Niemetsky,'a term of reproach applied to all who cannot speak Slavonian.-We can