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MY NOVEL; Or, Varieties in English LIFE. PART XXII.,
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD & SONS, 45 GEORGE STREET;
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THE position of this country, with reference to its foreign relations, is the most extraordinary that ever existed in the world. It may safely be pronounced without a parallel in the whole history of mankind. It is hard to say whether it is most marvellous considered with reference to the moral influence of past effort, or the real weakness arising from present blindness. We are at peace; we seem to be secure; all the appliances of civilised life are at our command; wealth, unbounded at least as regards territorial magnates and wealthy millionaires, is around us; every one is set on gain, or straining after pleasure; and yet the hand of the spoiler is ready to wrest it all from us; and, amidst our feasting and rioting, the handwriting is already to be seen on the wall which foreshadows our doom. But our people are blind to the warning-they are deaf to the voice of the prophet, prophesy he never so clearly. They have yielded to the influence of great and long-continued prosperity, won by the strenuous efforts of former times. With the usual disposition of mankind to believe in the perpetuity of the present order of things, they think they are always to be at peace because they are so now, and have long enjoyed that blessing; and flatter themselves that their enjoyments are never to be abridged, nor serious sacrifices required of them, because they have so
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long been blessed with an exemption from the serious national ills of life. Like the human race in the days of the Flood, they will be marrying and giving in marriage when the deluge comes upon them.
Although, however, this is, beyond all question, the general condition of the influential part of our people, and though it is the apathy or indifference of this majority holding power which has so long stamped indecision and want of foresight on the measures of Parliament, yet, upon a nearer examination, it will be found that it is not an absolute majority of the whole nation which has been struck with this judicial blindness, but a part of it only. Unfortunately, however, it is a very large class that has been so affected, and precisely the class in whom political power is now vested, and who, as they return, at present at least, the representatives of a majority of the seats in the House of Commons, have in effect acquired the government of the whole nation. It is in the boroughs-above all, the manufacturing boroughs-that the belief has spread most widely that war is an evil which has entirely disappeared from the world; that we shall never be called on to fight again; that pacific influences and moneyed power will henceforth entirely regulate the affairs of nations; and that muskets and cannon, swords and cuirasses, sail of the line and steamers of war,
may be buried beside the bones of the Mammoth and the Mastodon, as relics of a primeval age, which will never return to the sons of men. Strange as it may appear to any one who is either versed in the annals of nations, or has read the book from which they are all taken, the human heart, these ideas are not only common, but, with few exceptions, universal, in our manufacturing towns. Mr Cobden never expressed an opinion which met with a more cordial response in the breasts of a great majority of his auditors in Free-Trade Hall, Manchester, than when he said, two years ago, that all danger of war had now passed away; that nothing could now withstand commercial interests and the influence of capital; and that our real wisdom would be to sell our ships of the line, disband our troops, dispose of all the stores in our arsenals, and trust entirely to the Peace Congress for the decision of the disputes of nations.
If other governments and people could be brought to take the same view of this subject, the doctrines of the Manchester School of politicians would perhaps be well founded, and the world in general, discarding all idea of wars or rumours of wars, might rest in tranquillity, in the well-founded expectation of perpetual and universal peace. But if other uations are not animated with the same ideas-nay, if their warlike propensities are every day increasing in ardour, while ours are declining, our situation, it must be evident to every considerate observer, is daily becoming more alarming. Our wealth, upon which we so much pride ourselves, and to the increase of which we are willing to sacrifice everything, would then become the main source of our weakness-our fame, which alone has hitherto protected us, the greatest increase to our danger. The first would excite cupidity, from the prospect of gratifying it without danger; the second inspire revenge, from the hope of achieving it without disgrace.
Now no man can look around him and not see, not only that the chances of war are great, but that they are imminent. The peacemakers have undone the work of their own hands:
the ascendancy, even for a brief season, of their political friends, has closed for a century to come the practical application of their principles. The Revolution succeeded in Parisit succeeded in Berlin-it succeeded in Vienna; and what has been the result? Just what, under similar circumstances, might be expected in London, Manchester, or Glasgow. The Revolutionists, among all their professions of love for peace, proved the most warlike of mankind in their deeds; and armaments greater, and wars more bloody, and passions more violent, than had ever before arisen, followed immediately the triumph of the self-styled apostles of peace! And in what state is Europe, at this moment, four years after the first explosion of the revolutionary volcano by the overthrow of Louis Philippe? Fifteen hundred thousand armed men are arrayed round the standards of the European sovereigns; the efficient warlike force of the great military nations on the Continent has been doubled; and the military spirit developed in them all to an extent never witnessed since the fall of Napoleon. Such has been the result of the political measures of the peacemakers.
If these vast warlike armaments were confined to Continental operations, and destined only for mutual slaughter by the Continental nations, they might be, comparatively speaking, an object of indifference to the British public; and valuable only to the historian, or the distant observer of events, as an example of the inevitable tendency of democratic revolutions to awaken the warlike passions, and postpone, if not prevent, the reign of peace upon the earth. But, unfortunately, this is very far from being the case; and if there is any one thing more certain than another, it is that we ourselves are the principal object of all these armaments, and that we are more immediately threatened with attack than any state on the Continent. The reason is, that we are at once the richest, the most inviting, and the most unprepared. Our immense riches, in great part centred in London in a form susceptible of immediate seizure, both invite attack and hold out the prospect of impunity to
the spoiler. There is no other capital which presents anything like the prizes which London would afford to a conquering enemy, or could with so much ease be reached by his armies. Vienna and Berlin, comparatively poor and worthless as the objects of plunder, can only be reached after long and fatiguing marches, and when the forces of a confederation, which can array 500,000 admirably disciplined troops around its standard, have been subdued. But London can be reached in three days from the coast of Sussex: it could only be defended at present by a force so inadequate to the task of protecting it, that future ages will be lost in astonishment at the infatuation of a nation which, with such resources at its command, has left its metropolis in so defenceless a state; and the battle of Hastings has taught us that a great disaster on the coast, even when the nation was far better prepared than it is now, comparatively speaking, to repel aggression, speedily renders further resistance in the interior hopeless. There is no other nation but this which, within a day's sail and three days' march, presents to the enemy a Bank with twenty millions of sovereigns in its coffers, a metropolis from which double that sum might be levied by military contributions; an undefended arsenal, containing artillery and the muniments of war for 200,000 men, and a military force at the very utmost of 12,000 disposable effective men to defend the whole!
Add to this that England is the country against which the military jealousy of France from the very earliest period has been most strongly directed, and on the head of which disasters the most serious, and disgraces the most galling, have to be visited by our warlike, gallant, and thoroughly prepared neighbours, the moment the hour for retribution is thought to have arrived. If the French, or rather the Normans, can point with just pride to the battle of Hastings as a proof of the comparative ease with which England, when taken unawares, and slumbering in fancied security, can be conquered by a single victory, a series of subsequent triumphs, gained by the
conquered nation over its conquerors, when the national strength was once fairly roused, tells them in a voice equally loud and distinct the risk they run, if advantage is not taken of the defenceless state of a particular moment to complete our ruin. The series of defeats subsequent to the one and only triumph of Hastings, inflicted by the English on the French through four centuries, is unparalleled in military annals; it even exceeds those gained by the French over the Austrians. Michelet, in his History of France, confesses with a sigh that all the great days of disaster and mourning to France subsequent to the battle of Hastings, even on land, have come from the arms of England; and the fact that it is so, is so notorious that it is known to every tyro in history. Tenchebray, Cressy, Poitiers, Azincour, Verneuil, Minden, Gibraltar, Egypt, Talavera, Salamanca, Vittoria, Orthes, the Pyrenees, Toulouse, Waterloo, constitute a series of land triumphs, which the French, a military nation, and passionately fond of military glory, can neither forget nor forgive. A French king has rode captive through London; a French emperor been buried a state captive in the English dominions. has Paris been taken by the armies of England; the English horse in one age have marched from Calais to Bayonne, in another from Bayonne to Calais. Can these things ever be forgiven? When the lover shall forget his adored, the mother her child, France may forget them-but not till then.
The conduct of Prince Louis Napoleon, since he obtained the command in Paris, is sufficient to convince us that he is perfectly alive to these views, and only prevented by prudential considerations from giving effect to them at this time. Against whom was the great naval display and grand review at Cherbourg, two years ago, directed? Were the stately threedeckers, the huge war-steamers with their sides bristling with batteries, intended as a demonstration against Belgium or Prussia? What was the object of the frequent great reviews, and late grand demonstration of military strength at Paris on the 18th of May? Was it against the distant