Political Essays (1819)/The Bourbons and Buonaparte
THE BOURBONS AND BONAPARTE.
Dec. 6, 1813.
The following paragraph in a daily paper is equally worthy of notice for magnificence of expression and magnanimity of sentiment:—
"When or under what circumstances the great Commander may think fit to carry his forces against the large military or commercial depôts of the south of France, we do not pretend to form conjectures. We are confident, that as nothing will disturb the calm and meditative prudence of his plans, so nothing will arrest the rapidity of their execution. We trust alike in his caution and in his resolution: but, perhaps, there may be in store for him a higher destination than the capture of a town or the reduction of a province. What if the army opposed to him should resolve to avenge the cause of humanity, and to exchange the bloody and brutal tyranny of a Bonaparte for the mild paternal sway of a Bourbon? Could a popular French general open to himself a more glorious career at the present moment, than that which Providence seemed to have destined to the virtuous Moreau? Or is it possible that any power now existing in France could stop such a general and such an army, supported by the unconquered Wellington and his formidable legions, if they were to resolve boldly to march to Paris, and bring the usurper to the block! Every disposable soldier in France is on the Adour, or on the Rhine. In the case we are supposing, there would be no enemy to encounter, unless the northern frontier were at once denuded of troops, and the road to Paris on that side laid open to the allies. This is no question of the attachment of the French nation to one dynasty or to another: it is a question of military enterprise, in the minds of military adventurers. The simple possibility, not to say the high moral probability, that in a moment of general defection, an army which has so much in its hands may run with the stream of popular feeling throughout Europe, is enough to make the Tyrant tremble on his throne. Lord Wellington is doubtless prepared to take advantage of so desirable an occurrence, in case it should happen without his previous interference: but we wish him to interfere; we wish that he were authorised plainly and openly to offer his mighty co-operation to any body of men who would shake off the Tyrant's yoke in France, as has been done in Italy, in Germany, and in Holland!"
This is a fair specimen of that kind of declamation which has for a long time swayed the affairs of Europe, and which, if the powers of Europe are wise by experience, will not influence them much longer. It is this spirit of treating the French people as of a different species from ourselves—as a monster or a non-entity—of disposing of their government at the will of every paragraph-monger—of arming our hatred against them by ridiculous menaces and incessant reproaches—of supposing that their power was either so tremendous as to threaten the existence of all nations, or so contemptible that we could crush it by a word,—it is this uniform system, practised by the incendiaries of the press, of inflaming our prejudices and irritating our passions, that has so often made us rush upon disaster, and submit to every extremity rather than forego the rancorous and headstrong desire of revenge.
The writer of the paragraph talks familiarly of marching to Paris, and bringing Bonaparte to the block. He seems to wonder at the delay which has already taken place. This is the very style of ancient Pistol, "Bid him prepare, for I will cut his throat." This high tone of impotent menace and premature triumph always "reverbs its own hollowness." It is the echo of fear. Instead of a proud repose on our own strength and courage, these writers only feel secure in the destruction of an adversary. The natural intoxication of success is heightened into a sort of delirium by the recollection of the panic into which they had been thrown. The Times' editor thinks that nothing can be so easy as for an army "to run with the stream of popular feeling" from one end of Europe to the other. Strange that these persons, like desperate adventurers, are incorrigible to experience. They are always setting out on the same forlorn hope. The tide of fortune, while it sets in strong against us, they prove to be the most variable of all things; but it no sooner changes in our favour, than it straight
"Flows on to the Propontic,
And knows no ebb."
To encourage themselves in the extravagance of their voluntary delusions, they are as prodigal of titles of honour as the college of heralds, and erect a standard of military fame, with all the authority, but not with the impartiality of history. Lord Wellington is "the great commander," and "the unconquered general," while "the little captain," and "the hero" or "the deserter of Smorgonne," are the only qualifications of Bonaparte. If such are the true denominations and relative proportions of these two generals, then it is quite right to give to each of them the honour due;—if they are not, then it is quite wrong to stake the welfare of nations on a turn of expression—to put little equivocal scraps of paper into false scales, and decide the fate of Europe by nicknames. The scales in which Sir Humphrey Davy weighs the 500th part of a drachm, are not so slight nor insignificant as those in which his vilifiers, The Times, balance the destinies of the world.
"What," it is asked with a certain air of profundity and mystery, "What if the army opposed to him [Lord Wellington] should resolve to exchange the bloody tyranny of Bonaparte for the paternal sway of a Bourbon!"
Why, if the French wish to shake off the galling yoke of a military Usurper, we say, let them do it in God's name. Let them, whenever they please, imitate us in our recal of the Stuarts; and, whenever they please, in our banishment of them thirty years afterwards. But let them not, in the name of honour or of manhood, receive the royal boon of liberty at the point of the bayonet. It would be setting a bad precedent—it would be breaking in upon a great principle—it would be making a gap in the general feeling of national independence. For we are to observe, that this rational, popular, patriotic preference of the mild paternal sway of the Bourbons is to be enforced upon them by the powerful co-operation of the unconquered Wellington and his formidable legions. This is, in fact, returning to the original ground of the whole quarrel, and the question for them to consider, is whether all the evils and miseries which they may have endured in resisting these forcible appeals from foreign powers, are the strongest reasons why they should at length gratefully resign themselves to that tender concern for their sufferings, which so much persevering kindness, and disinterested preference of their interests to our own unequivocally proves. The impression produced by these formidable emissaries of mild paternity must, indeed, be only that of filial love and reverence. The constant role of these same Bourbons, now recognized, now disowned by the surrounding states, now held up as bugbears to frighten, and now brought forward as decoys to allure them, for awhile kept entirely in the back-ground, and then again set over them like puppets, in every reverse of fortune, must excite, one would suppose, some very pleasant associations, and give them some little insight into the nature of the machinery which is played off against them. In other nations, at least, these sort of tentatives would lead not to submission, but to indignation. It cannot be denied, however, that the French character has peculiar susceptibilities. France, like a modern coquet, may be fascinated once more by the courtly graces of discarded royalty; or, on the other hand, recollecting the malice and the impotence of which she was so long the victim, like Hellenore, entertained by the jolly satyrs, may wisely refuse to return to the cold and irksome embraces of the drivelling Malbecco. But our politician wishes all this not to be left to their own free will, but that we should interfere. We can easily believe it,—"it was ever the fault of our English nation" to wish to interfere with what did not concern them, for the very reason that they could interfere with comparative impunity. What is sport to them is death to others. The writer also draws a parallel, as if it were a feasible case, between Holland, Spain, and Germany throwing off a foreign yoke, and the French throwing off their own; in other words, submitting to a foreign one. We beg pardon of these acute discriminators. We know they have an answer. We leave them in possession of the nice distinction—between a foreign yoke, and a yoke imposed by foreigners!
"This," says the writer in The Times, "is not a question of attachment to one dynasty or another, but a question of military enterprize between military adventurers." Does our speculator mean by this to confer the privileges of military adventurers, en plein droit, on the Emperor Alexander and the Crown Prince of Sweden? But whatever he means, it is clear that he is not consistent in what he says; for he has said just before, that the object of this so often repeated march to Paris is "to bring the Usurper to the block!" Here, then, it is a question, not between contending generals, but between a usurper and a lawful monarch. So true it is that those who have most need of their assistance have the worst memories! "What," exclaims our enthusiast, "would there be to oppose such a general and such an army, aided by the unconquered Wellington," &c. First, "this is the very coinage of his brain." There's no such general and no such army.
But granting the supposition to be true, the patriotic general, who should open to himself a glorious passage through the heart of his country, and attempt to make it the vassal of England, under the monstrous pretence of allegiance to his Sovereign, might perhaps meet the fate which Providence destined for the virtuous Moreau. Perhaps the French may think that as their affected loyalty could be only a cover for the most dastardly submission, so their hypocrisy and treachery to themselves might be justly retaliated upon them, by making the restoration of thrones a mask for the dismemberment of kingdoms. They may have acquired by experience some knowledge of that enlargement of view and boldness of nerve, which is inspired by the elevation of success. They may consider, that "when the wild and savage passions are set afloat, they are not so easily regulated" according to the dictates of justice or generosity. Some of them may even go so far as to think that all the respect of the Emperor of Russia for the talents and virtues of Moreau might be insufficient to deter him from memorizing another Warsaw at Paris! Of this we are tolerably certain, that there are not wanting staunch friends of order and civilization in this country who would advise and applaud such a catastrophe "to the very echo," as a masterpiece of political justice, chaunt Te Deum over the ruins, and very seriously invite the good people of France to join in the chorus! But we are not "the echo that shall applaud again." We shall not hail such a catastrophe, nor such a triumph. For out of the desolation would arise a poisoned stench that would choak almost the breath of life, and one low, creeping fog of universal despotism, that would confound the Eastern and the Western world together in darkness that might be felt. We do not wish for this final consummation, because we do not wish the pulse of liberty to be quite destroyed, or that the mass of our common nature should become a lifeless corpse, unable to rouse itself against never-ending wrongs, or that the last spark of generous enthusiasm should be extinguished in that moral atheism, which defaces and mangles the image of God in man. We do not wish that liberty should ever have a deer's heart given her, to live in constant fear of the fatal, inevitable venal pack behind her; but that she may still have the heart of a lioness, whose mighty roar keeps the hunters at bay, and whose whelps revenge their parent's death!
Rather than such an event should take place, if such an extremity were possible, we should even wish that a general and an army of our own, devoted by The Times to a far different service, might be empowered to make a firm stand against it: to stop the tide of barbarous despotism as they had already rolled back that of ungovernable ambition, and to say. Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further. Such an interference in such a cause would indeed give to Great Britain the character which she claims of being the Vindicator of the World. It would be to assume an attitude and a port indeed, loftier than she ever yet presented to the admiration of mankind; and would create a bulwark of strength round her, that would encircle her as with "impaling fire!"