Political Essays (1819)/On the Courier and Times Newspapers
ON THE COURIER AND TIMES NEWSPAPERS.
Jan. 21, 1814.
The following passage, among others of the same calibre, has lately appeared in The Courier:—
"The party call upon us to speak out. We thought it not very easy for any charge of not speaking out to be urged against us. However, we obey their call most willingly. 'Does The Courier, they ask, mean to insinuate, that because the South of France is more inclined to favour their pretensions, the Bourbons ought to have frigates allotted them to traverse the Bay of Biscay, and join the standard of Lord Wellington?' To this we reply, yes; decisively yes!—We say we would have a Bourbon proceed to the South of France. We hope we have spoken out on this point. One more remains;—Would we 'set up some new obstacle to the progress of the negociation that is on foot?' Yes, if we thought there was any negociation on foot with Bonaparte. But we trust there is not—we trust there never will be."
And this at a time when it has been formally signified from the throne that there was no objection on the part of England to treat with the French Ruler; when Lord Liverpool has said publicly that no conditions of peace would be insisted on, which we, placed in the situation of France, should not think it reasonable to grant; when we, in concert with the Allies, have announced to France, that it is neither our intention nor our wish to interfere with their internal government, but to secure the independence and safety of the continent; and when Lord Castlereagh has gone from this country for the purpose, avowed and understood, of giving effect to that declaration, and of fixing the basis of a peace to be recognized by the common powers of Europe. To produce such a passage, at such a moment, required that union of impudence and folly which has no parallel elsewhere. From the quarter from which it comes, it could not surprize us; it is consistent; it is in keeping; it is of a piece with the rest. It is worthy of those harpies of the press, whose business is to scare away the approach of peace by their obscene and dissonant noises, and to tear asunder the olive-branch, whenever it is held out to us, with their well-practised beaks; who fill their hearts with malice, and their mouths with falsehood; who strive to soothe the dastard passion of their employers by inflaming those of the multitude; creatures that would sell the lives of millions for a nod of greatness, and make their country a by-word in history, to please some punk of quality.
We are to understand from no less an authority than that of The Courier, that Lord Castlereagh is sent out professedly to make peace, but in reality to hinder it: and we learn from an authority equally respectable (The Times) that nothing can prevent the destruction of Bonaparte but this country's untimely consenting to make peace with him. And yet we are told in the same breath, that the charge of eternal war which we bring against these writers, is the echo of the French war-faction, who, at the commencement of every series of hostilities, and at the conclusion of every treaty, have accused this country of a want of good faith and sincere disposition to peace. We are told, that if the French do not force Bonaparte to make peace now, which yet these writers are determined to prevent him from doing, "they are sunk beneath the worshippers of cats and onions." These "knavish but keen" politicians tell the French people in so many words—"We will not make peace with your government, and yet, if it does not make peace with us, we will force what Government we please upon you." What effect this monstrous and palpable insult must have upon the French nation, will depend upon the degree of sense and spirit they have left among them. But with respect to ourselves, if the line of policy pointed out by these juggling fiends is really meant to be pursued, if a pretended proposal to treat for peace on certain grounds is only to be converted into an insidious ground of renewed war for other purposes, if this offensive and unmanly imposture is to be avowed and practised upon us in the face of day, then we know what will be the duty of Parliament and of the country. The wars, in which the Governments of Europe have been engaged, have not succeeded the worse when the people took an effective share in them. We should hope that the interference of the people will not be necessary to effect the restoration of peace.
It is curious to hear these systematic opponents of peace, (with infuriate and insensate looks scattering firebrands and death,) at the same time affecting the most tender concern for the miseries of war; or like that good-natured reconciler of differences, Iago, hypocritically shifting the blame from themselves—"What, stab men in the dark!" They ask with grave faces, with very grave faces, "Who are the authors, the propagators, and practisers of this dreadful war system? who the aggressors? who the unrelenting persecutors of peace?" War is their everlasting cry, "one note day and night;" during war, during peace, during negociation, in success, in adversity; and yet they dare to tax others as the sole authors of the calamities which they would render eternal, sooner than abate one jot of their rancorous prejudices. One of these writers (the Editor of The Times) asserts with an air of great confidence, while he himself is hallooing as loud as he can among the indefatigable war-pack, that Bonaparte is the cause, the sole author of all the calamities of Europe for the last fourteen years; and what is remarkable, he brings as a proof of this sweeping assertion, a state paper, written under the Pitt Administration of pacific memory, deprecating all conciliation with the French at the very period from which the writer dates the wanton, unprovoked aggressions of Bonaparte, and which paper he quotes at length, as an admirable description of the mode by which we are to avert the calamities of Europe for the next fourteen years, as we have done for the last. Better late than never. So industrious an inquirer need not despair of effectually averting our future miseries, and pacifying the world, if it is to be done by referring back to state papers of this description, or by resuming the principles of those good old anti-jacobin times, or by finishing the war as it was begun. There would be no end of precedents and documents for prosecuting the war with vigour under every variety of circumstances, in order never to bring it to a conclusion. As a proof of the aggressions and implacable hatred of France, he might cite that monument of romantic and disinterested generosity "of heroic sentiment and manly enterprise," on the part of the Allies, the treaty of Pilnitz. He might proceed to those pacific manifestations—Lord Hawkesbury's march to Paris—the Bellum internecinum of Mr. Windham, and his consistent phrenzy at the treaty of Amiens—Mr. Pitt's abstract impossibility of maintaining the relations of peace and amity with the French Republic, or with the child and champion of Jacobinism—Mr. Burke's Regicide Peace—the project of starving France in 1796—of hurling her down the gulph of bankruptcy in 1797—the coalitions of different periods in which England saved herself and Europe from peace by her energy, or her example—the contemptuous rejection of every offer of negociation in every situation, the unwearied prosecution of the war on the avowed principle that we were never to leave it off as long as we could carry it on, or get any one to carry it on for us, or till we had buried ourselves under the ruins of the civilized world (a prediction which we narrowly escaped verifying)—all these undeniable proofs and substantial demonstrations of our fond desires, our longings after peace, and of the determination of France to aggrandize herself by war and conquest, would, indeed, with the ingenious glosses of our well-meaning commentator form a very entertaining volume, and would at least teach us, if not what to follow, what we ought to shun, in our future advances to this first of earthly blessings, so long and studiously and systematically withheld from us—only to render its attainment more certain and more precious!
To the other solid grounds of an indefinite prolongation of this war, religious, moral, political, commercial, constitutional, continental, Jacobinical, Revolutionary, Corsican, foreign or domestic—our apologist, in the true spirit of the French petit maitre in Roderic Random, has now added a ground of his own, of equal efficacy and validity with the former, viz. that we are to carry it on in the character of gentlemen and men of honour. We are to fight for the restoration of the Bourbons, say The Times, "that we may have gentlemen and men of honour to fight with." There is some prudence in this resolution; it goes on the old principle, that we are not to fight except with our match. Don Quixote, after he had been soundly drubbed by the Yanguesian carriers, recollected that he ought not to have engaged with plebeians. The writer whom we have here quoted, told us, some time ago, from a greater authority certainly than that of The Times, the true grounds of war, or "that we might spill our blood for our country, for our liberty, for our friends, for our kind;" but we do not remember, among these legitimate sources of the waste of human blood, that we were to shed it for a punctilio. If war were to be decided by the breaking of white and black sticks among gentlemen-ushers, or even by the effusion of courtly phrases in The Courier and The Times, we should have no objection to this fastidious refinement; but we cannot consent to shed the best blood of Europe, nor that of "the meanest peasant in this our native land," in order that the delicate honour of the Carlton House Minority may not be stained, nor the purity of their moral taste perverted, by an intercourse with any but gentlemen and men of honour. And thou, Carl John, what hast thou to say to this new plea of the old school?—Or why, not being clad with the inherent right to "monarchize, be feared, and kill with looks,"—dost thou insult over the King of Denmark, menace Holstein, and seize upon Norway, and yet tellest thy little son, that the time is coming, when conquerors shall be no more?—The Times' editor scornfully rejects our practical opinion on the probability of restoring the Bourbons, because it seems we always reject every proposition that makes the continuance of war necessary. Be it so. But do not these persons also attach the highest degree of probability, or, when they are so inclined, moral certainty, to every thing that tends to make peace unattainable? It is true we did not, as they say, anticipate the reverses of the French Emperor before they happened. If we did not anticipate them before, it was because we had nothing in past experience to guide us to such a conclusion, except, indeed, the constant unverified predictions of The Times and The Courier. If these inspired writers had the slightest intimation of them one moment before they happened, we are willing to bow down to them, and they shall be our Gods. But of this we are sure, from all experience, that the way to render the fruits of those reverses uncertain, or to defeat them altogether, is the very mode of proceeding recommended by the ceaseless partizans of interminable hostilities. If the French are a nation of men—if they have the common faculties of memory, of understanding, and foresight; if they are, as they have been pronounced by one no ways favourable to them, "the most civilized, and with one exception, the most enlightened people in Europe," surely, if any thing can kindle in their minds "the flame of sacred vehemence, and move the very stones to mutiny," it is the letting loose upon them the mohawks of Europe, the Cossacks, with General Blucher's manifesto in their hands. It is restoring to Bonaparte the very weapon which we had wrested from him, the mighty plea of the independence of nations; it is reclothing his power with those adamantine scales "which fear no discipline of human hands," the hearts and wills of a whole people, threatened with emasculation of their moral and physical powers, by half a dozen libellers of the human species, and a horde of barbarians scarcely human. Even the writer in The Times acknowledges that the Cossacks entering France as a sort of masters of the ceremonies to the Bourbons, is only better, and less likely to excite horror and dismay, than their entering it in their own rights and persons. It may be so. The bear bringing in the monkey on his back may be more inviting than the bear alone. But we should think that either portent must be fatal, that neither hieroglyphic will be favourably interpreted.
- As he is fond of the good old times before the Revolution, the writer might go still farther back to that magnanimous undertaking, concerted and executed by the same persons of honour, the partition of Poland.