« VorigeDoorgaan »
1808, France had gone on from conquest to conquest; Austria had been all but destroyed, Prussia had been extinguished as a kingdom, and the general face of the Continent, which had been swept by the French invasion like a forest by a whirlwind, exhibited only, in its vast tracts of desolation, the course which had been taken by the storm. This was the dark age of the great conquest; but though the power of Europe seemed to have been broken, and the time had undoubtedly come when a tempered despotism in France might have destroyed every hope of liberty among nations; yet, fortunately for mankind, French despotism grew more violent from hour to hour, and the question was pressed constantly upon the minds of all men, whether it was not better to die in the field, than perish of broken hearts even at the fireside. In this sense, we see something like the operation of retributive justice, the weight of the chain itself tormenting the slave into resistance, and the reckless depression of humankind to the earth, giving a new spring and restorative power to the nations. It is a remarkable characteristic of France, that what she has gained by the sword she has almost universally lost by the sceptre; that, overwhelming all by the boldness of her attack, she has, like a tide, seemed to ebb by the course of nature; that great victories have only taught her to lose kingdoms; and that the boldest ambition in the world has twice, within her own day, brought all the nations of Europe to her capital, and twice made her the public victim of the justice of mankind.
The insults and oppressions heaped by Napoleon upon Austria, at length compelled that power to try the chances of fortune once more. this period two distinguished individuals came forward in the service of the monarchy; Schwartzenberg, who was dispatched to the Russian emperor, and Metternich, appointed ambassador at Paris. The latter name still stands at the head of European diplomacy, and its illustrious bearer will go down to the future as the second founder of the Austrian throne. Mr Alison naturally expatiates in the praise of this great sustainer of the peace and power of the balance of Europe, whom he justly characterises
a statesman, in the widest accep
tation of the word; gifted with a sagacious intellect, a clear perception, and a sound judgment; profoundly versed in the secrets of diplomacy, and the characters of the leading political men with whom he was brought into contact in the European cabinets; persevering in his policy, far-seeing in his views, unrivalled in his discrimination, unbounded in application, richly endowed with knowledge, and enjoying the rare faculty of veiling those great acquirements under the veil of polished manners, and causing his superiority to be forgotten in the charms of a varied and intellectual conversation."
But, striking as the services were which this distinguished minister rendered to his country in restoring her from the tremendous losses of the French invasions, he has since rendered still more important services in suppressing the jacobinism of Europe, in saving Italy from being the seat of civil war, in preventing the bloody feuds of Spain from spreading alike over Italy and Germany; and still more, in showing to all existing monarchs and ministers, that the true way to preserve the public tranquillity is by refusing to traffic with its disturbers, by giving over the profligacy which affects patriotism for the sake of its celebrity to condign punishment, and by sending the conspirator to the chain and the rebel to the scaffold. By this manliness he has saved Austria for the last five-and-twenty years; in the midst of perpetual contagion, with France on one side breaking out every third year into revolutionary disease, with Italy continually nurturing the fever, and with Spain and Portugal before her eyes racked with paroxysms, and dying of their agony, Metternich's simple policy has been no negotiation with the rebel, no traffic with the traitor; cure the jacobin by the Scourge if he will be cured-if he is not, disable the disturber by the scaffold. He has thus reigned almost without the employment of the scaffold; and the woes of Italy are chiefly retricted to the complainings of bad poets, who hoped to have risen from bad politicians into comfortable placemen. Thus poets have been incarcerated, but the population have been kept in safety; the walls of Spielsberg have sent forth sonnets and tales of woe, but the fields of the Milanese have been kept unstained by blood;
Cicisbeism has been perhaps mulcted of some of its heroes by those commitments, but there has been no massacre for this quarter of a century. We condole with Jacobinism, but congratulate every thing else on the exchange!
But the Spanish war had begun. The 200,000 legionaries, whom Napoleon had retained as the garrison of Germany, began to defile towards the Pyrenees; and the hope of trying the chance of battle again revived in the breast of Austria. Formidable preparations were silently but steadily made. A regular army of 350,000 men was supported by an irregular, but brave and tolerably disciplined force of 480,000. Such is the enormous power of the military nations of Germany, even after the havoc of successive and sweeping wars; rather, such was the horrible calamity of human ambition, which, from the throne of a single despot in France, could thus compel almost a million of human beings to leave their peaceful pursuits for the dreadful chances and sufferings of the field.
Napoleon was instantly aware of the new system of Austrian politics; and he assailed Metternich in one of those curious, and apparently unpremeditated bursts of passion, which he occasionally adopted, to astonish the world by his ferocious candour.
"What, M. Metternich!" he exclaimed in the midst of the circle at the Tuileries" Here is fine news from Vienna! What does all this mean? Have they been stung by scorpions? Who threatens you?what would you be at? As long as I had my army in Germany, you conceived no disquietude for your existence; but the moment it is transferred to Spain, you consider yourselves endangered. What can be the end of these things? What, but that I must arm as you arm; for at length I am seriously menaced. Have you, sir, communicated your pretended apprehensions to your court? If you have done so, you have disturbed the peace of mine, and will probably plunge Europe. into numberless calamities."
This was decisive-the oracle had uttered its voice; and from that moment war must be foreseen. Still, there were hesitations in the cabinet, as they saw the shadows of those tremen
dous hostilities taking a more defined form, and approaching nearer their confines. Napoleon waited but for one event the return of his courier from St Petersburg, announcing the refusal of Alexander to make common cause with England and Austria.
The intelligence came, and the war began by a thunderclap. The great battle of Eckmuhl was fought on the 22d of April. Mr Alison's descriptions of battles are always admirable; they are animated without confusion, and minute without losing the grander characters of the conflict. But he can occasionally use the pencil of a powerful painter of scenery; and nothing can be more graphic than his landscape of this mighty field of battle before the shock came.
"As they arrived on the top of the hills of Lintach, which separate the valley of the Iser from that of the Laber, the French, who came up from Landshut, beheld the field of battle stretched out like a
map before them. From the marshy meadows which bordered the shores of the Laber, rose a succession of hills, one above another, in the form of an amphitheatre, with their slopes cultivated and diversified by hamlets, and beautiful forests clothing the higher ground. The villages of Eckmuchl and Laichling, separated by a large copse wood, appeared to view, with the great road to Ratisbon winding up the acclivities behind them. The meadows were green with the first colours of spring: the osiers and willows which fringed the streams that intersected them, were just bursting into leaf; and the trees which bordered the roadside already cast an agreeable shade upon the dusty and beaten highway, which lay beneath their boughs. The French soldiers involuntarily paused as they arrived at the summit, to gaze on this varied and interesting scene. soon other emotions than those of admiration of nature swelled the breasts of the warlike multitude who thronged the spot. In the intervals of these woods artillery was to be seen; amidst those villages standards were visible, and long white lines, with the glancing of helmets and bayonets on the higher ground, showed the columns of Rosenberg and -Hohenzollern already in battle array, in very advantageous positions on the opposite side of the valley. Joyfully the French troops descended into the lower grounds, while the Emperor galloped to the front, and, hastily surveying the splendid but intricate scene, immediately formed his plan of attack."
In the latter part of this engage
ment, and when the day was already verging into twilight, one of the most desperate conflicts that ever took place with European cavalry, occurred by the collision of the Austrian and French cuirassiers. The French infantry having, after a long action, forced the Austrian columns to take up a new position, and preparing to follow them into the plains bordering the Danube, the Archduke placed twelve squadrons of the Imperial cuirassiers, with a large body of hussars, on the road in front of Eglassheim, in which were posted some bat talions of grenadiers, supported by several heavy batteries. As the French infantry approached this mass of cavalry, they halted for the advance of their own horse. A succession of charges followed; but at length the Austrian cuirassiers advanced, broke through the French hussars, and poured down upon their cuirassiers. The conflict now became actually so awful, that the infantry ceased their fire; the artillery paused; and "in the melée was heard only, as from the battles of the knights of old, the clang of the swords ringing on the helmets and cuirasses of the dauntless antagonists. The sun set while the contest was still undecided; the moon rose on the strife, and amidst her rays, fire was struck on all sides by the steel upon the armour, as if a thousand anvils were ringing at once under the blows of the forgers."
But the equipment of the Austrians was inferior. Some foolish experimentalist in Vienna had been allowed to try with how little defence the soldier might fight; and had, accordingly, armed the troops with half the cuirass in front, the back being exposed. This theory, which might have answered sufficiently well for the charge, had forgotten the existence of the melée; and when the squadrons became mingled, the French, whose bodies were defended all round, had a palpable advantage over their opponents. The result was, that, after a long and various struggle, the Austrians were repulsed, leaving twothirds of their number on the field. But this gallant struggle gave time for the retreat of the army. During its continuance, the artillery and infantry were withdrawn to the rear. The reserve had time to advance, and Napoleon, seeing that he might have
to fight the battle over again, gave orders for the troops to bivouac on the ground where they stood.
This cavalry fight had no equal, except the final collision of the English and French heavy cavalry at Waterloo. But then the conflict, in point of defence, was more unequal still, for the British were wholly without armour; but they had strong swords and bold hearts, and they broke down their antagonists, cuirassed as they were. The cuirass has since been adopted in our service by the Life Guards, and the adoption has been rational and serviceable; for why should the lives of brave men be exposed the more carelessly for their bravery? But the expedient ought to be adopted in every regiment of cavalry, and even in every battalion of infantry. Of course, the weighty cuirass of the Life Guards would be unsuited for the lighter services; but a slight, yet highly effective cuirass, or simple plate of thin iron, might be adapted to the entire cavalry and infantry services. Many a dangerous wound might be averted, and many a valuable life might be saved by this easy expedient, which, without adding more than a few ounces to the weight of the soldier's equipment, and not at all embarrassing his movements, would add, in a most important degree, to his security. If we should embark in another war, humanity and common sense, and even policy, would equally urge some contrivance of this kind.
The battle of Eckmuhl, though still exhibiting the unparalleled fortune and talents of Napoleon, yet exhibited on the part of his opponents, signs which might well have startled him with fears of change. In this despe rate conflict, the Austrians had not only fought with gallantry, but with skill. When driven from their position by the masses of the French, they had retreated without confusion; and even in discomfiture had presented so firm a countenance as to stop pursuit. Night fell, and Napoleon himself, full of eagerness to finish the war at a blow, and flushed with success, dared not press the retreating lion too closely. This new sense of their power saved the Austrian army. They had lost in killed, wounded, and prisoners, twelve thousand men, a horrible evidence of one day's work of war.
Their position, lying against a great river, without one bridge for its passage, was dangerous, and the Archduke resolved on passing the Danube during the night. A bridge of boats was thrown over the stream, and by this and the bridge of Ratisbon the whole force moved. With such silence, expedition, and dexterity, was this great operation effected, that, when the French stood to their arms in the morning, expecting a great battle, they saw nothing before them but a vast empty plain, with, in the extreme distance, the rearguard of cavalry escorting the last guns within the walls of Ratisbon. The French cavalry now pushed forward without delay; Napoleon was at their head, and, in his haste to strike a final blow by the capture of the town, exposed himself so much to the fire from the ramparts, that he was struck by a musket-shot. The wound was only in the foot, and inconsiderable; but the sight of the Emperor compelled to dismount from his horse spread alarm through the army, followed by exultation equally vivid when they saw him suddenly mount again, and exultingly felt that they were still under the protecting genius of Napoleon.
Under this impulse they were irresistible by any troops that the Continent could oppose to them. A new race of soldiership, a new order of men, and a new spirit of gallantry, determination, and defiance, was yet to tear down the laurels which had grown so thickly round the pyramid of the great conqueror's fame. But that time was not to be yet; and there was nothing to supply the place of the future deliverers in even the practised discipline and devoted intrepidity of the German. We hope that Mr Alison, before the completion of his history, will indulge us with some striking speculations in the philosophy of this distinction. It is remarkable that the conquering periods of the modern military nations, have always been preceded by some powerful public impulse; that some impression has been made upon the nation, penetrating enough to descend to its lowest ranks; and that it is this newlyawakened, deeply-infused sense of character, which has turned the popu. lation into warriors, and the warriors into conquerors. Are we not to trace
to this sudden consciousness, to this new-born pride, to this general advance into the sunlight, however imperfect, and however remote, the change from national torpidity and individual indifference to that new life, which evidently has marked the successive leading sovereignties for power and renown? And is it not the absence of institutions calculated to sustain this popular sense of character, which accounts for their disinheritance of that distinction? No man who knows human nature can believe that even the promises of the Mahometan paradise, formed as they were to inflame the passions of the Arab and the Turk, ever had the power to stimulate them into that gallant perseverance of conquest, which carried them, like so many torrents of fire, at once to east and west, north and south. A first impulse might have sent them forth full of dreams of wealth and possession; but the conquests of three centuries must have had a more powerful stimulant than the dreams of devotees. All the brilliancy of all the houris, and all the fountains of wine that flowed through the palaces of paradise, would have been forgotten in the first campaign of the burning desert of the Houran, or the sterile mountains of Syria. The true stimulant which turned a nation of shepherds successively into a nation of conquerors, of sages, and of sovereigns, was the newborn sense of superiority over the loose and fugitive Greek, the consciousness of a new faculty, and that faculty fame.
We find the same principle acting in the same direction every where. The armies of Spain, once the terror and the admiration of Europe, were formed less by the long discipline of the Moorish wars, than by that sense of triumph over a daring antagonist, which elevated the estimate of himself in the bosom of every peasant from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean. The early terror of the Moslem to all European nations, augmented the renown of their conquerors; and from the moment in which the crescent was lowered on the battlements of Granada, the Spanish peasant felt himself the first peasant of Europe. The defeat of the famous chivalry of Austria by the Swiss at Morgarten, turned every mountaineer of the Cantons into a soldier, and made them the champions
of Europe till they degenerated into the mercenaries. Down to Marignano was their day of invincibility. But from that period they were only an army of policemen, and they fought like policemen. It was neither republican discipline nor revolutionary enthusiasm that made the whole population of France pour into the field, and fight the battles that swept Europe in the early part of the war. Such motives were insufficient for an effect so ardent, vast, and inflexible. It was the new feeling in the French peasant that he could be a man-the discovery that the serf who lived from generation to generation, unknowing and unknown beyond the edge of his village, might be talked of and thought of throughout his province-that the hewer of wood and drawer of water, to whom the external world was as little an object of contemplation as the depths of science, might suddenly stand on a ground to which he, till then, had never thought of lifting his eye; it was a new access of sensibility to the opinion of men-a sudden influx of the hope of distinction-a keener consciousness of the love of applause, which is born with every man, but which decays in the obscure life of the peasant, and dies in the total depression of the slave.
It is thus that the organs of publicity-journals, pamphlets, harangues, stir and strike public character. Even the furious falsehoods of the French journals less operated on the Revolution by exciting the popular revenge, than exhibiting a rapid way to all men to take the rank of public characters. Who can doubt the influence of this publicity among a wild population, when a journal might raise such a compound of mendicant and miscreant as Marat into the universal talk of France? What must be the stimulant of the power of conferring the loftiest names of ancient heroism on the obscure villainy of Paris; and lifting on the shoulders of the multitude men, who, until that hour of convulsion, never dreamed of looking above the ditch in which they were born, and in which they expected to die? But it is this sense of character which a great legislator would study as the most powerful security for national eminence, and which a great people should preserve as the most productive source of public energy. And, rude
an exemplification as soldiership must furnish of the civil virtues, it is to this sense of personal character that we should largely attribute the habitual superiority of the soldier in that country, which, above all others that ever existed, makes character essential, gives opportunities to the individual of becoming known, and practically, by its numberless means of publicity, may be said to keep every class, and almost every individual of every class, before the eye of the nation.
At this crisis of the war of 1809, the true pivot of Napoleon's supremacy, Mr Alison gives an admirably written and perfectly true sketch of the labours of that extraordinary being. "The road to Vienna lay open to the conqueror. It was a matter of mere convenience when he should step forward and seize the capital of the monarchy." The rapidity of his operations had not been less astonishing than their completeness; within twelve days from his leaving Paris, he had broken up the Austrian plan of the campaign; had fought the main army for four days-in other words, four great battles; had forced one Austrian army which threatened his flank into the Tyrol, had driven another, under his old and gallant antagonist the Archduke Charles, into the defiles of Bohemia. The loss of the Austrians had been dreadful, 30,000 men killed or taken, a hundred guns, six hundred ammunition waggons, baggage incalculable. The French, too, had suffered fearfully; they had lost 20,000 men in front of the enemy-what they had lost in their rapid marches, or were hourly to lose in the hospitalsthose lazar-houses of the field-no document has attempted to detail. If ever the words "veni, vidi, vici," were applicable to a modern conqueror, they might now have been used by Napoleon.
But with what solemn awe at the depravity of human nature, and what sacred astonishment at the infatuation of the human understanding, must not the moralist, nay, the man of common reason and common humanity, con. template this scene of madness, recklessness, and ruin! Fifty thousand human beings-perhaps twice the number-utterly cut off from all their uses in the world, within four days!— And for what?-to enable one man to call himself a victor. The lives thrown