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XVII: A Charge to the Clergy of his Diocess. By Dr. Law
Index to Volume II., for 1831
Art. I.— History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of
France, from the year 1807 to the year 1814. By W. F. P. Napier,
T. & W. Boone. 1831.
On the contrary, the more time the author spends in the preparation and revision of his labours, the more likely they are to be worthy of the public attention. But as he has already attained a considerable and not unmerited degree of success, some persons will suspect that he has resolved to take advantage of it, in order to spin out his history to the utmost possible extent. Judging from the course pursued in the present volume, we should apprehend it to be essential to his plan, to record not only every combat in which the British troops were engaged, but every skirmish, every trivial affair of pickets, which gave a moment's work to their Spanish or Portuguese allies. Even the desultory warfare of the Guerilla parties is treated with unnecessary minuteness. As the Colonel has now written above eighteen hundred pages, and has advanced only as far as the battle of Albuera, we may conclude that the important events by which that sanguinary conflict was followed, will occupy thrice that number, and afford the industrious author abundant literary occupation for many years yet to come.
We must therefore take the liberty to suggest it, as a question well entitled to Colonel Napier's serious consideration, whether he ought not to take in some of his canvas, and steer somewhat more directly towards the haven for which he is destined. Let him not lay the flattering unction to his soul, that he has secured popularity for his exertions, and may therefore prolong them as he pleases.
VOL. II. (1831.) NO. I.
The public taste is exceedingly capricious, and it might happen even to Colonel Napier to experience its despotism. He will find himself much mistaken if he think that he can repeat with impunity the experiment which he has made in the volume before us, of spreading over three or four hundred pages details of insignificant Fransactions, which, if they might not have been altogether omitted, might:ưndoubtedly have been most advantageously compressed within the limits of a single chapter. Even military readers, men who peruse this work as a professional exercise, or who desire to bé reminded by'it of scenes in which they have been themselves engaged, must contend manfully with the power of ennui, in order to obtain a knowledge of whatever it contains of real importance. Nay, the author admits more than once, that the multiplicity of small incidents which he relates must prove wearisome; if he felt this, why did he swell them to such an unreasonable proportion ?
It is not our desire to offer the smallest objection to the fulfilment of the author's ultimate design, which is to show that the war in the Peninsula was conducted to its happy termination, exclusively by the masterly genius of the Duke of Wellington. Of this fact the world has never doubted, and never will doubt if it should endure for thousands of ages. But there have been writers, French, Spanish, and others, who have affected to dispute the voice of history upon this point, and it is well that their falsehoods should be contradicted, their sophistries detected, and their miserable detractions exposed to just contempt. But we maintain that in order to accomplish this purpose, it was not necessary for Coloniel Napier to devote two hundred
pages, for instance, to the matters which occurred in the Spanish army, between the period when Blake abandoned Aragon, and that of the surrender of Ciudad Rodrigo. The battle of Ocana, where the Spanish army was in effect destroyed, one or two sieges, and the investment of Cadiz, were really the only events worth much notice during that interval, and considering the little comparative influence which they had upon the final issue of the war, they might well have been summed up in a few compendious sections, after the manner of Tacitus.
Colonel Napier should learn that prolixity from him is less endurable than from most living writers, inasmuch as he well knows how, when he pleases, to be sententious in narrating events, and by a few picturesque touches to place a scene before his readers in the most perfect manner. In describing battles, particularly, he is unrivalled. The ground, the marshalling of the troops, the actual conflict, are painted so distinctly, that we see the whole affair at once, as in a cabinet picture. Beneath these master-pieces of the artist, he displays a technical precision in delineating the whole engagement, as a demonstration upon which the military critic is afterwards to exercise his skill, in awarding praise or distributing
It is true that we are aided on these occasions by plans and maps, but these might generally be dispensed with, so highly
relieved, so well defined and graphic are the written sketches. Of the justness of the critical observations on the military movements of the contending armies, it is impossible for us to form an accurate judgment; that we leave to those whose professional experience has enabled them to speak upon the subject. It is our business to treat the Colonel merely as an author, and in that respect we must say that he never quits a field of battle without exciting our enthusiastic admiration. He sends the blood tingling through our veins oftener than any writer, who has for a long time come under our notice.
Nor does the gallant officer omit the mighty moral of his theme, the disaster, the misery, the demoralization which war uniformly produces. Although as
Although as a soldier he mingles with unaffected delight in the stormy perils of the field, he constantly recurs with the feelings of the man to the desolation, the ruin of families, the destruction of social happiness, with which often the most brilliant victories in defence of freedom are attended. It is captivating to observe the softened glance with which he turns away sometimes from the shout of successful combatants and roaring artillery, to commiserate the fate of villages and their innocent inhabitants, all whose calculations of felicity are put to flight, like visions, by those sounds of terror. We are thus led occasionally to ask ourselves what is all this turmoil about, and for what end? Is it worth while thus to prostrate towns, and disperse so many families, merely that a king may vindicate his honour, or a nation its pride ?-merely that a little angle may be added to our territory, or a stream may acknowledge our dominion? Seeing how events have turned out, one might seriously question the utility of all the battles which have been won by the Duke of Wellington, not to speak of the enormous expenditure of blood and treasure by which they were purchased.
It is not discreditable to Colonel Napier's humanity, that his work gives rise frequently to such reflections as these. He truly represents the object of the British arms in the Peninsula, to have been the support of the aristocratical principle, against the democratical tendency of the French revolution, and its empire. We now see how little has been really gained upon these points. We overthrew the revolution and destroyed the giant to whom it gave birth, but we failed to chain its spirit, and it is at this moment as much alive, and may very probably, before many months, be as turbulent and as domineering as ever.
Doubtless we have learned too severe a lesson to think of again opposing it. A generous though inevitable compromise will teach us that the aristocratical principle is no longer tenable, and, even if it were, that it is no longer worth fighting for.
In another respect Colonel Napier's history is most valuable. It is certainly the best authenticated work, as well as the most impartial, that has yet appeared upon the war in the Peninsula. The