« PreviousContinue »
Robert Wilson's calculations, he leaves out of the account that power from whose chains the continent bas only jast escaped, and to repress whom, within something like her ancient limits, the united strength of Europe was no more than barely necessary. He even affects to speak of her as existing no longer in the quality of an independent and powerful state; he whines out bis wishes that France might be restored to Europe;' and deplores her as a departed friend whose worth was never known till it was missed. Yet it might perplex the author to point out in what circumstance of population, or wealth, or valour, or ambition, that kingdom is now worse off than at the commencement of her late career of conquest and usurpation—a career which the powers of Europe, as then constituted, were so utterly unable to arrest or balance. Had France more than her present means of offence when her armies “. first entered Italy and Flanders? or at what moment of her history (except the short and calamitons period of her empire) had she, as she now has, a population of 29,000,000, an exchequer unencumbered with debt, and a conscription-law which places at the disposal of her government any conceivable number of excellent soldiers? • Restore France to Europe!' Where is France now? Is she not in the inidst of us, in possession of her ancient commerce, her ancient colonies, and more than her ancient territory? Restore France to Europe! Has not Europe more reason to apprehend that she may be once more made painfully sensible of the existence, and that (so soon as those forces are withdrawn which are the guardians of feeble Belgium and equally feeble Germany) the demon of ambition will again run amuck to Naples, Cadiz, and Berlin?
There are those, we know, for whose patriotism and talent we entertain the highest respect, though we differ from them in many of their opinions, who were so far impressed by the greatness of this danger, and those melancholy lessons which the experience of the last hundred years has taught the world, that they objected in the first instance, and have never ceased to object to the line of policy pursued by the allies, as rather calculated to irritate the pride than to curb the power of France, as compressing, for a short time, by an external force, that spring which would, therefore, at length, react with greater violence. Such counsellors as these, instead of scotching the snake,' exhorted us to deprive it, once for all, of its fangs, by the restitution of Alsace and Lorrain to their ancient proprietors, or by a still further reduction of those means which had been found injurious to the peace of mankind. But, besides the danger and impolicy of driving a valiant and high-minded enemy to despair, if there had been any intention (as Sir Robert Wilson insinuates, but, as we believe, without the least ground for his calumny) among the allied powers to dismember France; a sufficient argument to the
contrary may be found in that gigantic power of Russia which, however exaggerated by the author now before us, is doubtless such as to make it desirable that the greatness of France should be eclipsed; but not extinguished. We will not assert, indeed, nor is it necessary to the safety of Europe, that France, with her present territory, is exactly equal in strength to her colossal rival. That, in the essential circumstances of power, there is a less difference between them than is generally imagined; that the superior wealth, and more concentrated population of France, must, in some measure, compensate for the smaller numbers in her census; and that the possession of numerous harbours on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, with prodigious facilities of forming and supporting a naval force, must more than counterbalance an alliance with Holland, or the command, however absolute, of seas either covered with ice one third of the year, or removed from the ordinary politics of Europe, are facts so plain that they are hardly worth discussion. Sir Robert Wilson himself, indeed, appears to be aware of their truth, since he has incidentally let slip a fact which is of itself almost fatal to his theory. If France takes up arms, he tells us, against Russia, England will be alarmed for the safety of—what? those very
Netherlands which he had before stated to be entirely dependent on Russia, and which, in the hands of Russia, are, he tells us, to be dangerous to our maritime supremacy! But is it not plain that, if the
power of Russia were so terrible as he supposes to ourselves and to the world, our jealousy of France must abate in proportion as our danger augmented from an opposite quarter? Is it not plain that if Russia had become the common enemy, it would be the interest of Britain and Austria to support themselves on France against Russia, in the same way as that (according to Sir Robert Wilson himself, before he was transformed from the advocate of Russian aggrandizement into a counsel for the jacobins) it was once the interest of the states of Europe to seek a support in Russia against France? or is not that balance pretty equally suspended whose equilibrium would be destroyed by a transfer of the Netherlands? But it is by no means necessary, in real life and practical politics, to employ, like John Bull in Swift's satire, the steel-yard to regulate the comparative bulk of nations; to vomit Peter Bear whenever he is overfed;' or to administer (even if the remedy were at hand) gold-cordial' to all whom a long course of steel-diet had rendered consumptive.' It is not necessary for Europe that the two great coinbatants should be precisely equal in weight and size, provided the difference be not so enormous between them, but that the independent states, by throwing themselves into the balance, can make which scale they please preponderate; and, so far as England herself is concerned, it is obviously her interest that the superiority should be on the side of that power which is most remote from her: from whom she has, therefore, a less immediate danger to apprehend, and with whom her good understanding is less likely to be interrupted. It is even desirable for her that this more distant strength should be so great and alarming as to draw the whole jealousy and fear of Europe into one direction, and to confer on England the inestimable advantage not only of having a most powerful ally against the envy of her immediate neighbour, but of having her friendship courted by that neighbour. It is far better for her that, instead of being called on to succour and subsidize the German states against France, she may leave it to the interest and fears of France herself to support, with all her power, the independence of those states against the encroachments of the Russian Eagle. It would be even desirable for England (so far as her private interests are concerned) that this necessity should become still more urgent and apparent; that the Vistula, or even the Oder, should, with the Carpathian Mountains, be the boundary of the new Polish kingdom, in order that the impossibility of reciprocal advantage should shut up the avenue to that too good understanding between Russia and France, which would infallibly end in a partition of the continent. And the advantage to us is still more evident of that policy and those connexions which unite the former monarchy to the Netherlands, and not only bring her in contact with our ancient enemy, but assign to her, and not to us, the defence and patronage of Belgium.
On the whole, we look forward with a pleasing hope, founded, in some degree, on the personal characters of the sovereigns of Russia and France, and still more on the obvious advantages which both their kingdoms must derive from a continuance of tranquillity, -to a far longer respite from bloodshed and aggression than Sir Robert Wilson seems to augur.—But let the storm come when it will,--it is obvious, we think, that the present position of Great Britain is singularly favourable either to a happy neutrality or an efficient interposition. There never was a time when this country enjoyed a greater share of peace and glory, and political estiination, than when the House of Austria, in possession of one third of Europe and of all the treasures of America, occupied a situation in many respects resembling that of modern Russia; when Naples, the Milanese and Genoa, were the Poland, the Netherlands and the Switzerland of our present politics, and the larger states of Italy played a similar part to that which is now assigned to Prussia, Austria and Bavaria.-The only difference is that the naval power of Spain and the pretensions of Philip to the English throne, conspired, with the prejudices of religion, to give us a greater jealousy
of his power, and to involve us in a more complicated and vacillating policy than we shall be now tempted to adopt in the future disputes between France and Russia.
To this more favourable picture of the present state and future prospects of Europe, we are only aware of three objectious which may be made.—The first concerns this country alone, which is called on to anticipate from Russia, attacks on our commercial preeminence and our East Indian colonies, in which she would be so far from meeting any effectual opposition from the other continental powers, that, it is probable, they would many of them rejoice in seeing her successful at our expense.- We know there are many in England who entertain such fears as these,--and those nations on the continent who believe our territory to consist in nothing else but bales of cotton, and sugar, may reasonably conclude that our greatness essentially depends on what they are pleased to call our monopoly:-Let us see, however, in point of fact, what Russia bas done, and what it is in her power to do, to prevent our selling a single yard of broad-cloth for which we have now a regular customer; or to prevent our market extending itself with the growing prosperity and luxury of mankind. It is not, we conclude, apprehended that she will fit out fleets to burn our merchant ships, that she will make a descent on the Commercial Road and send in a horde of Cossacks to our West Indian warehouses. It is said that she will prohibit our commerce from the ports under her influence. - This experiment she has tried, (not indeed for her own pleasure, but for the amusement of Buonaparte,) and we have a tolerable guarantee that she will not do so again, because after all which has been said of our advantages in that intercourse, tlie fact is that the balance of trade is now and always has been in favour of Russia herself, whose landed proprietors can have no vent for their hemp and tallow, if they do not take some proportion of our marketable commodities in return.—That she will trade with any other nation, in preference to ourselves, is certainly to be expected in every instance (but in those instances only) where other nations can supply her wants cheaper, and offer her a greater reciprocal advantage.--And that she will encourage her own manufactures and her own merchants rather than ours, is a measure of which we, certainly, cannot complain, and which, in the present situation of affairs, need not fill us with any great apprehensions.—The worst which can befall us, (and it is an event which is no longer contingent, but has for some time taken place,) is that she will raise as much revenue as possible from the merchandize which we send ber, and that the custom-house duties will be only limited by a sense of her own interest; but we are greatly mistaken if this is not a treatment which we may expect from
earth, whether great or small, and for which, therefore, the enormous power of Russia is by no means to be accounted answerable.
On the probabilities or possibilities of an Indian invasion, we have already said enough in our remarks on Sir J. Malcolm's History of Persia.-Even, if successful, we have not, we confess, so much of the usual continental prejudices as to believe that the safety of our native land is bound up with the authority of the Honourable Company in Bengal, or to suppose, as Sir Robert Wilson may perhaps have heard from his foreign friends, that (instead of England advancing money for the defence of India) they were the annual millions derived from thence which enabled us to carry on the war. Supposing our armies driven from Bengal and Surat, it is evident that Bombay, Pulo-Penang and Ceylon, would give us the command of the sea and the commerce of the East; the Emperor Alexander's Dutch allies might have some reason to apprehend that we should indemnify ourselves in Batavia; and it would be in our power, if not able to rule ourselves over Hindostan, at least to take good care that no other European power had any firm authority there. But, in good truth, the more is known of our real situation in the East and the difficulties of the intervening country, the less will such an enterprize be contemplated as a party of pleasure,' or as a speculation of pecuniary advantage. It has never, in fact, been seriously contemplated in either of these lights, by those who knew any thing about the matter. It was regarded by Buonaparte as a means whereby an effectual blow might be aimed at our interests, and it was projected by the Emperor Paul in the same spirit of resentment against us. But, whatever may be the anxiety of young and hot, and needy adventurers to enrich themselves with the spoils of Bengal, no wise government can ever meditate an expedition to India for its own sake; and though the attempt, as a war-measure, is certainly not impossible; yet, where no other interests interfere, a war on this account is not to be reasonably apprehended; and, as we shall presently shew, so wide and advantageous a field is opening itself in another quarter to the ambition of Russia, that she will daily have less leisure and less inclination to interfere with us in that heritage which our right hand has won, and which, thank God, is not yet likely to be an easy prey to any invader.
Another objection to the continuance of that European system which was established in the late congress is taken from the present state of the public mind in France. If France, it is said,
were under a stronger and more popular government, it might be possible that she would take the part which we have described in the common defence of Europe. But, it can never be the interest of the present dynasty to awaken her armies from their slumber,