Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/Representative men: The soldier - The Maccabees, Wallentstein, the Napiers
the maccabees : wallenstein : the napiers.
There are some qualities which must be common to soldiers of every age and nation: but in no class is there a more marked modification of character under the changing phases of civilisation. This will appear very plainly, if we contemplate the career of such eminent soldiers of different social periods as may be accepted as a type of the military quality of their time.
The first appearance in history of the Soldier,—the man of distinct military value,—is in that early period of national life when conquest is the same thing as greatness, and when chronicles are made up of records of attack, and, consequently, of defence. Great soldiers stand out from the multitude in the early history of every considerable nation, because the greatness of that time consisted in an overwhelming influence over other peoples; and that influence was then obtainable only by arms, and the prestige they conferred. From our advanced post we may sometimes find it difficult to enter into the merits, and appreciate the career of the great conquerors of former ages; but we can sympathise with the military quality of ancient society when it takes the form of defence. A period of ambitious attack was, of course, a period of valorous defence. The philosophical historian ought to be able to regard both with interest and complacency, as true and natural manifestations of human character in their own place: but it is only persons who are very philosophical indeed who can now care as much for conquerors who aggrandized their country as for patriots who defended it.
In that early period, the great soldier came out of any social order or class; or rather, he added his military quality to his hereditary dignity or occupation. Now and then, but rarely, a man of the servile or ignorant classes rose to be a general, by dint of valour, or inborn military genius: but usually one of the privileged orders,—the King, the Priest, the Counsellor,—came out great in the field, and was henceforth known as an eminent Soldier. The Priests, to be sure, engrossed all the nobler occupations where they could. Kings issued from their body only; and they were the statesmen, the physicians, the philosophers, and the great captains of their time. When any one became a mighty soldier, his other quality was lost behind his military glory. This is a case very unlike anything we see in modern times. But the objects of war were different: the mode of warfare was so different as to demand a different cast of character; and it is because patriotism is nearly the same in all times, while warfare is not, that we can now sympathise so much more readily with the defenders of old territory than with the conquerors of new, even in the natural age of conquest. As the fact is so, it is fair and right to look for the Representative Soldier of the ancient world among the opponents of conquerors. None can answer better to the term than that immortal band of brothers, the Maccabees.
They were the five sons of the priest Mattathias, a descendant of Aaron. They were brought up in an upland village, a mile from Joppa, where they had the sea spread out before them, while the hills of Samaria rose behind. In their early years the prospects of their country were more cheerful than for some generations past. The traces of the Captivity were nearly effaced,—the Temple at Jerusalem rebuilt, and a new store of holy wealth laid up in it, and of splendid adornment beautifying it. By wise statesmanship, enough of the country families had been attracted to Jerusalem to repeople it. The rural districts were restored to their fertility. The heads of families went up to the feasts at Jerusalem in peace and rejoicing. The authority of successive High Priests was sufficiently imposing to conceal from common eyes the foreign control to which the High Priests themselves were subject; and Hebrew life would have been much what it was of old, but for certain tendencies in the popular mind which rendered statesmen, and especially the priests of both sections (the Pharisees and Sadducees of the coming time), uneasy about both their faith and nation. There had been a hankering after some of the rites and worship of the East, ever since the return from Babylon, among some of the people: and every time that any Greek soldiers passed through Palestine to Egypt or elsewhere, there were traces of an inclination among those who had entertained or conversed with them to dwell with admiration on the genial and beautiful worship of the Greek gods. Mattathias was full of forebodings about the consequences; and the best hope entertained by him and other priests was, that the Jews would be forgotten by the great potentates who were making war upon each other on all sides. The Jews were keeping very quiet in their own valleys. They desired to be left in peace, to restore and repeople their country; and there was hope that they might remain hidden among their hills, forgotten, or remembered only as a pillaged and humbled nation whom it was not worth while to attack. If they could be thus spared to make all ready for their Messiah, who was looked for within one or two centuries, and who might appear at any moment; and if the people could be kept steady to their own privileged faith, all would be well: but every clear-sighted and patriotic Jew was on the watch incessantly for the calamities which came only too surely and too soon. Whatever might have been the sincerity of Alexander the Great in greeting the High Priest as the messenger of the only Supreme God, he had carried away such an impression of the wealth of the Temple, and of the industry and capacity of a people who could produce such wealth, that his successors, and generals were always looking towards Palestine as a region which they must annex some day, and which must meantime be occasionally visited, to improve the Greek tendencies of the people. Macedonia would descend upon Palestine some day: and already there was perpetual risk from collisions between the Egyptians on the one side, and the Eastern sovereigns from whose predecessors Palestine had already suffered so much.
As the five sons of Mattathias grew up in their father’s house at Modin, they heard enough of wise men’s hopes and fears for their country to understand its case thoroughly, and to have their hearts devoted to its welfare. As they tilled their fields, they thought what it would be to see their Holy Land again laid waste. When they fell in with caravans, going to or from Cœle-Syria (the tract which is contained between Lebanon and Anti-Libanus), they gathered news of the movements of the Greco-Syrian kings and generals; while travellers from the south, hospitably entertained as they passed by, were questioned as to the prospect on the side of Egypt, or any rumours of marches through Idumæa. Like all the religious men of the nation, this family went up two or three times a year to the Temple feasts; and those feasts were always a kind of national council, where all news was made known to everybody, and the High Priest made his estimate of the state of the national mind. While the five brothers were still youths, indications began to arise that extreme danger to their faith and their country was impending.
King Antiochus had determined on making Greeks of all tribes and peoples he could get within his grasp; and he superseded the power of the Jewish High Priest, as far as it could be done by agents of his own, secured by bribery. When the news arrived at Modin that men of priestly family and function had taken Greek names,—that Joshua now called himself Jason, and Onias Menelaus,—it was clear that the Temple and its worship were in danger: and in a few more months, Antiochus had taken Jerusalem, slaughtered eighty thousand persons, and pillaged the Temple of its gold and silver vessels, and its chests of treasure. He soon after fortified the Castle, whence he commanded the Temple, so that the people dared no longer go up to worship, nor the priests perform the service. It was in the month of June, 167 years before Christ, that the smoke ceased to go up from the daily sacrifice. After that there was nothing to induce the inhabitants to remain; and Jerusalem was actually vacated. The remnant of the citizens dispersed themselves among the nearer Gentile nations; and thus again their attachment to their faith was weakened. The test was applied to every man when the king next proclaimed the gods of Greece as objects of worship throughout all lands. Pagan peoples made no difficulty; for the change was to them little more than a change of names. To the Jews it was a final test of their fidelity to God and their country. Many of them were glad of an excuse to do what they had before been inclined to: and many others yielded at once through fear. A master was sent to Jerusalem to instruct them in the new rites; he dedicated the Temple to Jupiter Olympius; set up an altar to that deity on the altar of Jehovah; forbade the keeping of the Sabbath; destroyed every copy of the Law that could be found; and compelled the people to eat swine’s flesh, and to attend the sacrifices to Jupiter in their own Holy Place. The story of the old scribe Eleazer, ninety years old, and of the mother and her seven sons, tortured to death because they would not worship Jupiter, is remembered by us all. How it must have wrought upon Mattathias and his sons we may conceive.
Their own day of trial was approaching; and they saw it coming. Every day groves were consecrated to heathen gods and goddesses; altars were set up in the highways; and the people of the villages and farms were compelled to carry the ivy in the processions of Bacchus, and bound over to eat swine’s flesh once a month. At last, the king’s officer, Apelles, came to Modin,—all graciousness in manner, and full of splendid promises, if Mattathias would be a good subject to the heathen king. The old man not only refused, but made public announcement of his intention to live and die by the faith of his race. He took his stand near the altar set up by Apelles; and, as a Jew approached it to offer sacrifice, he struck him dead,—not in a transport of passion, but under warrant of the Law. This was the first act of the Maccabees in their immortal defence of their Holy Land. Apelles was next struck down; and the old man called upon all true men who heard him to follow him to the mountains. Many joined him at the moment; and more followed, from day to da}-: but the enemy had learned the secret of conquering in that strange country where the people would not fight on one day in seven. Above a thousand of the Maccabees’ followers were watched to a cave in the limestone hills, and slaughtered on the Sabbath. Staunch as the family were, while all was giving way around them, they saw that this was a point which must be yielded, for the service of Jehovah and His Temple: and henceforth they encountered the enemy on all days alike. For a time they made the mountains their head-quarters, keeping watch over the country below, and swarming down upon the towns and the plains, overthrowing the heathen altars, restoring the synagogues, collecting every copy of the Law that could be heard of, for preservation in the hills; and punishing apostates, and cheering up all faithful Jews who had feared that all was lost. The Temple was indeed no place now for the Messiah to appear in. It was utterly defiled, and in heathen hands; but what had been once might be again, and the Holy of Holies be sanctified once more.
Mattathias was too old for such leadership as this. He soon sank under it, leaving it in charge to his sons to fulfil the task he had begun, and selecting Judas, the third, to be their general. It is a proof of the impression already made on the enemy, that the body of Mattathias was allowed to be brought down to the family sepulchre, and deposited there with all the honours of his name and rank, without any opposition from the soldiery of Antiochus.
For twenty-six years did the Maccabees carry on the war, through the reigns of five hostile kings. They destroyed 200,000 of the best troops of their enemy, and established the independence of their country, with all the religious restoration which was implicated with it.
Judas was chosen by his father for his military qualities; but Simon, the next eldest, was joined with him for prudence in counsel. The others seem to have co-operated as if no personal jealousy could enter into so holy a cause.
Their first act, after their father was buried, was to unfurl the banner of the Maccabees, by which Judas proclaimed his pretensions, and afforded a rallying point for all patriots. Next, he exercised and proved his small force by secret and rapid expeditions against towns, which he invariably seized and fortified, leaving garrisons in each. When sure of his hold over his soldiers, he adventured a pitched battle, in which his small force defeated that of the cruel Apollonius, who had made Jerusalem run with blood, and who was now Governor of Samaria. Judas slew him, and ever after used his sword, as a sort of talisman in the eyes of his followers. The name of the great Maccabee spread through neighbouring countries after one or two more considerable victories; but the effect was only to multiply his enemies. Antiochus himself travelled into his eastern provinces to raise money, and direct future attacks thence, while a vast Syrian army poured down by Cœle-Syria. The general of that army brought with him a large company of slave-merchants, having made proclamation that he should soon have, for the slave-market, the insurgent remnant of the Jewish people, whose price was wanted for arrears of tribute to Rome. The next conflict affords us the fullest information we have of Judas as a military commander. He summoned his force (which was only 6000 men, against 47,000 of the enemy) to a service of fasting and prayer, reminding them of the desolation of the Temple as the most intolerable of their humiliations. At the close of the observances he informed them fully of the danger, which would allow of no half-hearted men being employed; and he insisted upon the withdrawal of all men who had married, or built houses, or planted vineyards, and of all who were more or less afraid. This reduced his 6000 to 3000. With this handful of troops he marched towards Emmaus, where the enemy were encamped: but the enemy did not intend that he should ever reach their camp. A commander, at the head of 5000 men, was detached to cut him off in the hills; but the news was carried to Judas, who eluded the force in the night, and fell upon the camp in the early morning. The Syrians fled, but the Jews were so well under command that they abstained from plunder till the detachment had returned, and was conquered. It returned weary from its search for Judas and his band among the mountains: the camp was in a flame, and the Jewish force before instead of behind; and in such circumstances the picked troops of the Syrian general made little more resistance than the rest. The treasures of the camp remained with Judas; and the fate of the slave-traders has been preserved on record. They were sold into slavery. The next day was the Sabbath; and its services were animated by new hopes of recovering the Temple.
Much had to be done first; and years passed before that hope was fulfilled. Next year, a vast army had to be met beyond the Jordan; and the year after, another, on the southern frontier, in the direction of Edom. The victory each time remained with Judas; and one consequence was, that his name was in itself a strong force, so that the Syrian commanders recruited only in distant countries where the fame of the Maccabees was as yet unknown.
The day came at last (B.C. 165), when Judas found himself master of Judæa, and at liberty to turn to Jerusalem. At sight of the Temple the soldiery cast ashes on their heads, and wept aloud. In that climate desolation proceeds rapidly; and the courts were full of tangled shrubs and weeds, like the underwood of a forest. Instead of the golden vine over the portal, there was this dank vegetation below. But there was no enemy now. The pavements were renewed; the defiled altar was carried away, and a new one consecrated: the priesthood was reorganised, and the daily sacrifice resumed; the restoration being celebrated by a Feast of Dedication of eight days long,—decreed to be an annual festival from that time forward.
In the next year. King Antiochus died; and the general sent by his successor was defeated by Judas with such tremendous slaughter that the Syrians regarded the Jews as truly invincible. An offer was made of absolute religious freedom, if they would be loyal to the state; and the terms were sufficiently favourable to justify the truce which ensued. One of the Maccabees had just fallen. In the last battle, the Syrians had exhibited a troop of elephants, to the amazement of the Hebrews. The parade was very imposing,—a body of five hundred horse, and a thousand foot soldiers being attached to each elephant, their armour and weapons glittering in the sun, over all the hills in front, as they moved down to the plain. Eleazer, the fourth of the brothers, fixed his eye on one elephant as probably bearing the king, made his way to it and under it, stabbed it in the intestines, and brought the dying beast down upon himself, crushing him in a moment. Thus died the first of the brothers.
Though one great champion was laid low, the land rang with triumph. “On every hill and under every green tree” the idols were cleared away; the synagogues were opened, and the Lord’s Song was sung in His own land. From the snowy peak of Hermon to the Egyptian desert, the territory was free:—that is, till on the western side of the Jordan. Judas found it necessary so far to concentrate and secure his forces as to call in all from beyond the Jordan, where they were liable to attacks from both the east and the north. Along the whole valley of the Jordan, however, and among the religious communities already existing by the Dead Sea, and even in half-hearted Samaria, where the schismatics had been disposed to trim, and compromise with the heathen worship), there was rejoicing at the comparative independence of the country, and the cessation of the religious persecution. As for Jerusalem,—the people delighted to enrich the Temple again; and the Syrian garrison in the Castle, over against the Temple wall, listened by night with wonder and pleasure to the glorious music which came on the wind from the military bands in the city, as they played triumphant marches, and celebrated the acts of the Maccabees.
A foreign garrison in such a position was, however, fatal to a continued peace. During no part of the truce had Judas any rest; for the late enemy was for ever stirring up neighbouring-tribes to aggression; and the Maccabees were all kept busy in punishing their raids. When Judas returned from such an expedition towards Petra, he found that some renegade Jews who had joined the Syrians in the Castle on Mount Zion were guiding the foreigners in impeding and insulting the Temple worship; and the great Captain at once besieged the citadel which he had never yet succeeded in reducing. A few of the garrison got out unperceived, made their way home, and complained that the Hebrew general was breaking the terms of the peace. Such hosts then came down upon the country as were at first irresistible; and Jerusalem itself must have fallen once more but that the hostile king and his generals were called home by a civil war. They renewed the terms of the peace, and departed; but they threw down, before they left, the strong walls which had enclosed the Sacred Mount. There were still difficulties to be managed, from the religious schisms which were encouraged by the heathen enemy. The Maccabees were of too strait a sect of High Churchism, as it was in those days, to satisfy the large portion of the people who held by the Law alone; and while Judas carried matters with a high hand, on the authority of the tradition on which his party relied, the monstrous innovation grew up of Temples being founded elsewhere. The Samaritans had one before, and had admitted into it a modified worship of Jupiter, as one with Jehovah. A less objectionable, but wholly unauthorised one was now founded in Egypt, with an ignorant audacity very shocking to the Maccabees. The founder was the hereditary claimant of the High Priest’s office at Jerusalem, who was set aside for political reasons. The illicit temple and its priesthood thus founded by Onias, under the patronage of the Egyptian king, lasted nearly as long as the true Temple; but even the Egyptian Jews used only in the intervals of their visits to Jerusalem, where alone every Jew still believed that Jehovah could be worshipped with perfect efficacy. When Judas was Governor of the whole country, he was still in the first place its Commander-in-Chief; for he could not give the nation peace.
The paltering and renegade Jews were perpetually tempting the pagan enemy down upon him; and in B.C. 160 he was fighting the same Syrian general, with the same array of armed men and elephants, that he had conquered five years before. This time he slew that general, Nicanor, besides dispersing his enormous force, and slaying fifty thousand of them. Seeing no end to this kind of conflict, and having understood that Rome could make peace by giving her mere protection, Judas applied to Rome for an alliance which should serve that purpose. Rome was always gracious to such applications; and a treaty was made without delay; but Judas never heard of it. His followers had left him, weary of the war; and he had only eight hundred men when attacked in vengeance for Nicanor’s defeat and death. He was conquering in one part of the field when assailed in another; and he soon lay dead among his bravest comrades. It was not far from the home of his childhood. His brothers Simon and Jonathan made a truce with the enemy and laid him, with all funeral honours, beside his father, in the family burial-place at Modin.
It was under the apprehension that Jerusalem would be hopelessly defiled, that Judas had applied for the Roman alliance. The Syrians had declared that they would burn the Temple, and rebuild it to Bacchus. To save it was now the aim of his surviving brothers. But John, the eldest, was soon after slain in the desert by a party of Arabs, while he was acting as escort to the property of some allies. Jonathan was now to be the great Maccabee. At first there seemed to be no hope of a rally, while renegade and wavering Jews were everywhere in good understanding with the enemy: and Jonathan lay for many months hidden in the wilderness of Tekoah with a band of warriors, protected by the Jordan on one side and a swamp on the other. From their retreat they waged a guerilla war, supported by Simon’s success in holding some strong posts.
In following the story of vicissitude, we find Jonathan after a time Ruler of all Judea but Jerusalem and two or three cities, where his authority was still defied; and at length he appears supreme, and honoured for his holy uprightness as much as gloried in for his military greatness. He was High Priest when he stormed Joppa, and destroyed the great temple of Dagon at Azotus, and Simon became Captain General of the whole country. The fortresses were built up, the treaty with Rome was renewed, and Jonathan had a strong and proud army before Ptolemais when he found a fatal enemy where he least looked for it. The general of an ally, Tryphon, invited him to a conference about getting possession of Ptolemais; and he went. But his host aspired to hi master’s crown, and dreaded Jonathan’s honesty as an obstacle. He made him prisoner. Simon was instantly called to the command of the troops, and he sent the ransom demanded for Jonathan, and two of the children as hostages. But Tryphon murdered instead of releasing his prisoner, after accepting the ransom and hostages. Simon recovered the body of his fourth slain brother, and laid him beside the old father at Modin.
Simon’s rule was worthy of his early reputation for wisdom. He raised his country to a high state of prosperity and strength, maintained a good understanding with Rome, and kept up the military efficiency of the nation while encouraging its agriculture and commerce. More than all, he rendered the Temple secure by at length taking the citadel, and destroying not only the castle but the hill on which it stood, so that the Temple courts and buildings could no longer be commanded from any point.
He, too, was slaughtered, and by an even blacker treachery. His son-in-law was bribed by the Syrian king with the offer of the sovereignty of Judea; and he murdered the aged Simon and his eldest son at a banquet at Jericho. The plot failed, for another son escaped, and became High Priest: but the last of the band of brothers was gone.
There remained in one of the courts of the Temple a pillar bearing a brazen inscribed plate, on which the honours and offices of Simon were recorded, with the pledge of the Jewish nation that they should belong to his posterity for ever. There arose also a landmark on a hill on the shore near Joppa, well known to mariners for centuries after. It was the sepulchre of the Maccabees at Modin, a structure supported by seven pillars consecrated to the memory of Mattathias, his wife, and their five warrior sons.
Such was the life of great patriot-captains in the olden time. Of the great Soldier of the middle-ages there is perhaps no better example than Wallenstein.
If we call him a soldier of fortune, it is not in the lower sense of a man who sells his sword and pawns his life for money, because he does not know what better to do with himself. Albrecht Wallenstein was not an adventurer of this sort; but he was intensely ambitious; the career of arms was then the most open road for ambition; and Wallenstein was the man to take that road, whether there was a holy cause, or no cause at all, in view at the end of it.
His pride showed itself early. He exclaimed against being whipped at seven years old, because princes are not whipped, and he, meaning to be a prince, considered himself one already. He was of an old family in Bohemia, and the son of a baron. He neglected no preparation for greatness, and mastered all that he could of the learning of his day. Astrology was one of his studies, and the favourite one,—partly perhaps because it flattered his hopes of greatness. A youth of indisputable genius, who improves his powers, and has a passion of any kind, is sure to be ministered to, in regard to that passion, by everybody about him, from his teachers to his trencher-man.
Thus, from the stars in their courses to the hounds in the baron’s kennels, all boded greatness to Albrecht Waldstein, as his family name was written in his early days. But his relatives did not know what to think when he early disappointed them in the tenderest point of all. Bohemian Protestants as they were (at the end of the sixteenth century, when Protestantism was a passion in central Europe), it was a dreadful blow to them to hear that some Jesuit tutors had made Albrecht a Catholic. Next, he returned home, and, at three-and-twenty, married an aged widow, apparently for her wealth. At the end of eight years she was dead, and he was lord of fourteen landed estates which she had left him. For another year he continued his life of a country-gentleman, and then considered himself wealthy enough to begin his military career. He raised a body of dragoons, and offered his services to a Duke of Styria, against the Venetians. He played host to his own soldiers, and was adored by them: his command increased accordingly; and he obtained rank and honours at the end of the war, in which his was the winning side. A second marriage, entered into with a view to the favour of the Emperor, gave him the rank of a Count of the Holy Roman Empire. When the Bohemians went to war with the Emperor, they reckoned on their countryman Wallenstein as a champion, and offered him a high command in their army; but he disappointed his Protestant country and clan, and took service on the other side. When the Emperor’s funds were exhausted, Wallenstein supported his cause by his own wealth; and when the war ended,—again favourably for him,—he found himself Lord of Friedland, and richer by three millions of our present money for this Bohemian war. He was not yet a prince; but in four years more he found that early dream, fulfilled. In the interval he relieved the Emperor from two rebellious vassals, one of whom he compelled to surrender his claim to the crown of Hungary; and he saved the imperial army in a critical moment. In consideration of these services, he was made Duke of Friedland, and a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire. This was in 1624, when he was forty-one years old.
He had then only eleven years to live; and his greatest distinctions were yet to be won. He was the shield and weapon of the empire in the Thirty Years’ War; and in that conflict he soon won the reputation of the greatest of commanders. He began with raising and paying his own force; but he soon led them forth to subsist on conquered territories; and they found their warrior-life such a gallant one, and so extolled their captain, that soldiers flocked to him from all the countries of Europe. However wild they might be on arrival, he trained them into a pattern force. His marches and victories are a conspicuous feature of the history of his age. He drove the Danes across the Belt, and sat down to rest on the shores of the Baltic, the proprietor of new provinces, and Admiral of the Baltic and German Sea, with his head full of projects for creating an Imperial navy, in co-operation with the Hanse towns, to keep Gustavus Adolphus from obtaining a footing in Germany. He early warned the Emperor against the Protestant King of Sweden. But Wallenstein had many enemies; and never has any man been hated by a greater variety of foes at once. All who were envious or jealous of him—all whom he had eclipsed and mortified, and whom he had dispossessed of lands; all whom he had offended by his own haughtiness; all foreigners, because he openly disliked them; all priests, because he secretly distrusted them;—these and his Protestant countrymen joined in common action against him, under the lead of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. On their urgent appeal to the Emperor, to humble the great general who was too like a master, Wallenstein was dismissed from his command at the moment when Gustavus Adolphus was starting for the invasion of Germany.
All went wrong without him, and the Emperor had to sue to him to resume the command on his own terms. He was in no hurry; and the terms he imposed were abundantly galling. The campaign in which he and Gustavus Adolphus measured their forces against each other is one of the most interesting in military and political history. When his great antagonist had perished, the enemies of Wallenstein went to work again; and their hostility was aided by his intolerable haughtiness and perilous ambition. He was accused of conspiracy and treason: his appeals to the Emperor were intercepted, lest he should obtain a hearing. He was proclaimed a rebel, and his estates confiscated. He was betrayed in the castle in which he had taken refuge, a band of Irish mercenaries being admitted to murder his whole band at a banquet. Wallenstein was in bed, sick, instead of at table: but they went to him after killing his comrades. He met them in his night-dress; and some recoiled at the sight of his helplessness: but the leader, Devereux, lifting his partisan, called him a traitor who was going to ruin the Emperor. The great Captain disdained to reply, but opened his arms to the blow. He fell pierced through the chest, and died without speaking a word.
Much mystery invested his projects, if not his character, for two centuries: but documents have been brought to light which prove his innocence of any kind of unfaithfulness to the Emperor. As a man at once original and representative of his time and order, Wallenstein is an interesting study: but it is needless to enlarge on the difference in the emotions caused in us by the contemplation of a military career pursued from avowed personal ambition on the one hand, and devoted patriotism on the other. The story of Wallenstein falls cold on the heart after that of the Maccabees.
Of a widely different character from either is the model military career of our own time. Here we have again a band of warrior brothers, comrades in duty and honour, and in genius and heroism. The Napiers, adequate in all modern fitness and freshness, were the Paladins of the 19th century. They were the heroes, dauntless yet considerate, who showed us the old warrior type under the modifications caused by the changes in the art of war. In the ancient days men fought hand to hand, after the first flight of arrows; and the heroes of the battle-field were those who contended with and laid low the greatest number of individual antagonists. If such had been the method still, the Napiers would have been so many Maccabees. In Wallenstein’s time, the art of war had assumed a scientific appearance; the movement was ponderous, and the rules severe; and each antagonist understood the plans of his opponent almost as well as his own. Firearms took long to discharge; a very small per-centage of shots took effect; and to modern eyes, the great marvel of the campaigns of three centuries ago is that each produced usually so little result. In that age, the Napiers would, like Wallenstein, have astonished the world by miraculous marches, and a marvellous handling of the cumbersome baggage which was a dead weight upon everybody else. They would have won the hearts and fixed the sceptical faith of all the wandering soldiers of fortune who came across them; and they would probably have forestalled that method of rapidity, and concentration of speed and force which Bonaparte introduced, and which they so cordially and liberally admired when he, their enemy, afforded them the spectacle. They would have been leading warriors in any age, and under any method. As it happened, they were born under a system which renders the power and habit of instant and exact obedience the only opening to eminent individual enterprise and distinction in the field. These brothers, each endowed with as strong a power of will as ever existed in man, turned that power in the direction of military obedience, and, in days when armies have become a machine, showed how much dignity there may be in the thorough subordination which renders every man a sound element in the working of the machine. Their fiery spirits flamed up on the kindling of the strife, as if they had been at Platæa or at Crécy; but they manifested the true military spirit no less by their obedience to the requirements of a method by which the antagonism is more abstract, as it were,—when the slaughter is impersonally conducted, for the most part, and there is more to do in managing men and arms than in seeking out a hand-to-hand foe. They were soldiers made for any times, and for all time.
There were five brothers of them, three of whom were soldiers, and one a sailor. All were accomplished men—knights of the pen as well as of the sword—skilled in civil administration, and thoroughly fitted for the business and pleasures of private and domestic life. Of the three soldiers, William was ruling the Channel Islands, George the Cape colony, and Charles ruled Scinde, at the same time. William has immortalised himself in literature by his “History of the Peninsular War,” and Henry, the sailor, produced a full and complete “History of Florence.” All readers of good biography know the charm of Charles’s letters from India, as given in the Life and Correspondence published by William. William was an honorary member of the Royal Academy, on account of his statue of the dying Alcibiades; and he was a painter. In manners, their match was hardly to be found in their day and generation. High-born and high-bred they were, it is true; but no advantages of position and training could have given that charm of gentleness with heroism breathing through, and of sleepless yet tranquil intelligence which made their conversation and bearing winning and imposing beyond that of any other men.
When they lost self-command, and showed how they could be stirred by passion, it was always through some moral disgust. They fired up at the remotest scent of any deed of oppression or of meanness. If the strong encroached upon the weak, or self-interest induced cant or slyness, the spectacle might be seen of the Napiers incensed—and it was a sight never to be forgotten. In these qualities and attributes, in their clannish attachments, and in their relations with servants—domestic servants being settled in Napier households to the third and fourth generation—they were like the ornaments of chivalry in the Middle Ages; and yet in their military service there was nothing old-fashioned. They were up to all the impulses of their time, and foremost in the recognition of all professional improvements. “My colonels” Wellington loved to call them. They were his comrades as well as his aids and instruments. But he was so shocked at the amount of wounds—grave wounds—which they sustained that he gave his opinion that they had had enough, and should remain at home. In that particular case his opinion did not prevail with them, and as soon as they were fit for duty they were again in his train. In 1811 Charles had ridden ninety miles to an expected battle-field, his head bandaged for a dreadful wound in the face, received at Busaco, when, on nearing the scene of conflict, he met soldiers bearing a litter of branches covered with a blanket. It was George with a broken limb. Presently he met another litter. It was William, declared to be mortally hurt. Charles looked after them, but rode on into the fight. William’s wound was not mortal, but the pain of it remained for life. He was wounded four times in the Peninsular War, received seven decorations for that service, and was made K.C.B. We all remember how Charles was sent for when India was in a critical condition, as the only man who could retrieve the military rule; and how “all the young men were chafing to go out with him,” as was said at the time; and what he did to enable us to survive the mutiny which he would have prevented if he had had the whole power in his own hands. We all probably remember Wellington’s letter to Lady Sarah Napier, announcing that George had lost an arm at the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo. Most of us, it is to be hoped, know William’s “History of the Peninsular War,” which, read aloud by firelight, kept our soldiers awake and happy in the trenches before Sebastopol. We are all aware that we have always regarded the Napiers as soldiers for England to be proud of. In contemplating Representative Soldiers of various ages it is well to gather up and put together what we have known of this group of brothers, to substantiate to ourselves the pride and satisfaction of having seen in our own country the model soldiers of our time.
One characteristic trait in Sir William Napier was, that he never let pass among his intimates such expressions as “the lower orders” and “common soldiers.” When assured that the expression “lower orders” referred not at all to quality, but only to social arrangement, he was pacified; but in the other case he stood his ground. He insisted that there is no such thing as a common soldier in England; we have “privates,” but we have no “common soldiers.” This lofty and vigilant military spirit, appearing in daily discourse, is the same which manifested itself in an admiration of his enemy too chivalrous for his age to comprehend. We certainly dissent, one and all, now from his estimate of the first Napoleon; but it was an error on the right side at the time; and to honour and learn from the genius of the foe always has been, and always will be, regarded as a sure sign of a generous and elevated military quality.
It is not long since we parted with the last of these hero-brothers; and the civilian brother, Richard, who manifests the family spirit and accomplishments in his own way, still survives. Sir George Napier died in 1855, Sir Charles in 1853, and Henry a few weeks afterwards. Sir William lived, in spite of his wounds and an unequalled number of challenges arising out of his History, to the age of seventy-five, dying in February of last year. Their wonderful countenances are familiar to most of us through the frontispieces in Sir Charles’s “Life and Correspondence” and the print shop windows. The fiery-eyed Charles, and William, a perfect Jupiter Tonans, once seen can never be forgotten; and the impression of their heroic quality, shown in every intellectual and social act, leaves the same kind of ineffaceable impression on the imagination as the gaze of that eye and the glory of that brow. In the age of the Napiers, England may be as proud as ever of her soldiers.