« PreviousContinue »
God as a pure spirit. The perfection of the animal nature, which we find in military nations, is a thing worth striving for, and we believe that we state nearly the whole case in favour of the military spirit in saying, that it is a national exhibition of pugnacity and great bodily vigour. When it is said that a distaste for war is a sign of national degeneracy, the meaning is, that habits of submission and physical weakness are the precursors of such decay.
But if so, then the question naturally arises, whether it is not pos. sible to cultivate all that is good in the military spirit without cultivating the bad. Is it a superstition that we look forward to a reign of peace upon the earth ? Is it an absurdity to sing of a time
“ When man to man the world o'er,
Shall brithers be for a' that ?” If that golden age is ever to come, must we now look forward to it as a period of degeneracy? The idea is not for one moment to be entertained. And if we analyze what is understood by excellence in war, it will be seen that a disinclination for that species of action does not necessarily imply the decline of power. Three things are implied in war, of which we have already mentioned two. There is, first of all, the spirit of pugnacity; which is combined, in the second place, with great bodily vigour ; and is, in the third place, devoted to purposes of ag. gression and destruction. But evidently the art of destruction, or war, is to be valued, not for its own sake, but for bringing into play the spirit of resistance and the habits of physical energy. Defensive warfare is not, in the usual sense, a display of the military fire, although it exhibits all that is really valuable in that fire. And we, who repudiate the military spirit, may congratulate ourselves on displaying habits of emulation and energy of body such as never yet have been observed in history, except united with the rage of conquest. What is it that gives to our enormous trade its dignity but this, that it is more than trade, more than money-getting-it is enterprise. In its motive, it is the love of danger as well as of money-- the admiration of progress, as well as of profit; and in its result it can boast of the conquests of civilization, which are as truly victories as any that have been won through rivers of blood on the field of battle. Commerce has in our day invested itself with the best attributes of war; but it is war with nature, not with man. We level the mountains, and pierce them with tunnels; we fill the valleys, and bridge them with iron ; Ajax defying the lightning is not more truly a warrior, and a brave one, than is Franklin conducting the thunderbolt, or Wheatstone taming it to the purposes of the telegraph. What is all that defiance of the elements, that triumph over nature, that annihilation of time and space, which the modern union of science and commerce has enabled us to effect, but a display, in its noblest form, of that pugnacity which is the prime incentive to war? And with the incentive we have also the physical energy. That energy is sufficiently exhibited in the enterprises which engage us, but it is also seen in the success with which we have cultivated all manly exercises. In rowing or riding, in running or walking, in boxing or wrestling, or in swimming, we are more than a match for any other nation. A Red Indian, called Brother of the Wind, or Flying Hawk, fancies that he can race all the world, and sounds a challenge, in which he is backed by all the Yankee betting men. He is a splendid-looking fellow-tall, muscular, evidently made to win. On the day of the challenge there appears on the ground, all enveloped in successive layers of great coats and huge cravats, a miserable little Englishman, who declares that he is about to contest the honour. Red Indian laughs him to scorn, and seems inclined not to run with such a mock antagonist. The race, however, comes off. The bets are all against the little Englishman; and especially when, as the race proceeds, he allows his competitor to advance ahead of him some five hundred yards. It is only a stratagem, however, to induce the Yankees to bet still deeper; and when the trick has succeeded, the little man dashes forward like Lightfoot in the nursery tale, to the astonishment of all, passing the winning-post first. Hundreds of such incidents could be recorded ; and probably one of the most striking of these our readers will remember as having occurred last year at Paris, on the occasion of boat-races open to all the world. An English crew carried off all the honours of the two-oared, the fouroared, the six-oared, and the eight-oared races, although in each successive contest it had to contend with fresh crews. For indomitable perseverance and manly energy we may safely say that the English nation stands at this moment at the head of civilization, while at the same time it presents the singular spectacle of a great empire utterly averse from war.
We have been led into these reflections by the exposition of English foreign policy which lately appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes, from the pen of M. Forcade, who is the first ainong foreign critics to do us justice in the matter of our external policy. Ours is not a war policy. We are bent on peace-we have been bent on peace for many long years; and if ever we are dragged into war, it is against our will, and because we feel the necessity of defending our rights. But M. Forcade, on recognizing and applauding that line of conduct, has made an important historical mistake, which it is necessary to correct. It refers to the date when that policy was inaugurated. He declares that our present peace policy is directly opposed to the old invading policy of Chatham and of Pitt. We will put Chatham out of the question ; but, with regard to Pitt, we emphatically declare that, in theory at least, his policy was identical with that which at present obtains. All through the great French war we were fighting for a policy of non-intervention. We disclaimed the desire of making any conquests ; we admitted that it was no business of ours to fight against revolutionary principles, however much we might dislike them; and we took up arms but in self-defence. Napoleon was pursuing his conquests; he threatened India-- he threatened our colonies--he had all Europe under his thumb; and we
were to be the next victims. We cast in our lot with the other nations of Europe ; it was plain that we must stand or fall together ; and we continued to fight for our allies long after we, through the destruction of the French navy, had ceased to be in any immediate danger. But the war in which we thus engaged was in no sense a war of aggression, and M. Forcade is wrong when he describes us as actuated by an invading mania in the days of the younger Pitt. It is true that, just as revolutionary orators among us talked wildly of dethroning King George and establishing a republic, there were patriotic orators who, in their admiration of the British constitution, proposed to enforce it on all nations at the point of the sword, and who regarded our quarrel with the French as strictly a quarrel with their regicide theories and republican form of government. But these views were never entertained by our ministers. It was always maintained in despatches and other public documents, that it is no business of ours to interfere with the internal affairs of any nation; and that, however much we might desire it, we could not undertake to fight in the interest of legitimacy for the restoration of the Bourbons. At Amiens we made peace with Napoleon as the head of the French people ; and again and again we offered to make peace with him, provided he would abandon his European conquests, and let France fall back upon her ancient limits. In public documents, for which Pitt, Lord Grenville, and Lord Hawkesbury were responsible-at a later date, Castlereagh ; and, still later, Canning, Aberdeen, and Palmerston-these principles are advanced ; and they are essentially the same in theory as those for which Mr. Cobden now pleads as a new doctrine, and which M. Forcade celebrates as the amended policy of this country. Napoleon himself recognized our position when he said that we were a nation of shopkeepers. He saw that we had no thirst for glory, and he could only comprehend our views in describing them as a form of avarice. Even among ourselves our foreign policy has been disparaged as savouring too much of the commercial spirit; and it is only in these latter days, when trade has assumed gigantic proportions—when it has formed an alliance with science-and when its effect on civilization has been of marvellous grandeur---that we begin to perceive the dignity of our position. It is in discovering this dignity that M. Forcade is able to say, with reference to the reduction which had taken place in our defensive establishments, that these “are rather the accidental instruments of the power of a nation, than the permanent cause of that power;" an exceedingly valuable admission in the mouth of a foreigner. It is an admission that the disinclination for war, and a love of the peaceful arts, are not necessarily-as the political philosu phers used to imagine-a proof of degeneracy. It is the acknowledg. ment of a motive, larger and nobler than a grovelling haste to be rich, in the mercantile enterprises of a mighty nation. It is a confession that, in abjuring the pride of conquest and the glory of war, we are the leaders of civilization, and present a spectacle unique in history ; so that, whereas in the past no nation has ever been great, and preserved its greatness, without delighting in war, we have for the first time contrived to solve the problem of combining national importance with a horror of the destructive agencies. It is at once seen that, if other nations were as we are ; if they estimated at its proper value mere brute force, and saw the inevitable victory which in the end belongs to public opinion and mental effort ; if they had the same regard for natural laws, and felt the worthlessness of artificial restrictions ; if they were willing that thought should be free, and trade should be free, and man should be free; then the game of armies would soon be relinquished, and the millenial tranquillity, of which at present we are so incredulous, would be an actual fact. Is it unreasonable, too, that we should accept the attitude of England in the matter of war as in itself the promise of a brighter day-an earnest of universal peace—the first-fruits of all that poets have dreamed of, that prophets have prophesied, and that good men have prayed for since, the world began?
With all our aspirations, however, we are not of those who can look with frowning on the defensive measures which at this moment occupy so much of the public attention. We rejoice to say that England sets a good example to the world in a policy of non-interference, which, if universally followed, would soon turn all swords into pruning-hooks ; and we have no doubt that in time the good example will be imitated; but in the meantime while we are alone in the prosecution of such a policy, we are in danger of suffering for our good intentions, of having our forbearance mistaken for weakness, and of being suddenly attacked. Where the attack is to come from we need not now stay to inquire. It must come from some naval power, evidently-it may be France alone, or France in league with Russia—but whatever be the direction from which the danger may proceed, it is necessary to be prepared for the contingency. We have never believed in the invasion of England, as popularly apprehended, and do not now believe that it will be seriously attempted. When people talk of a French army landing in Pevensey Bay and marching to London, setting the Thames on fire, and sacking the Bank of England, they do not fairly calculate the cost of such an experiment, and should first of all consider whether an enemy is likely to be so foolhardy as to embark on certain destruction. The sort of invasion with which we are threatened is not of this kind, spite of the awful warnings of Sir John Burgoyne, Sir Howard Douglas, and General Shaw Kennedy. A war with England, of which the principal object is the possession of London, the humiliation of government, and the obtaining a large ransom, may be set down as utterly impossible. But a war with England, in which the invasion of our island might be threatened, or might actually take place, as a diversion is quite possible. So long as we are open to such a danger, we cannot afford to send our troops abroad to defend our colonies, or other possessions. Most serious injury may be inflicted on us, even if a hostile force should never be able to find the road to London. By means of the new guns the existing arsenals might
easily be destroyed, for they could be shelled from a distance so great that while the converging fire of the attack would tell with certainty on so large a mark as our dockyards, the diverging fire of the defence would be directed against marks, which in the distance, would be comparatively small. Or supposing that our arsenals were safeconceive a landing effected in some outlying district, and the enormous injury that might be inflicted on almost any part of our coast. These are dangers which must not be permitted, and which, apart altogether from any question as to the possibility of conquering England, or of capturing the Lord Mayor, may not unnaturally kindle alarm. The destruction of our arsenals would be fatal to our power, and a descent upon any part of our coasts might create suffering and destroy property to an extent, of which happily we can form but faint idea, since to use the illustrations of Sydney Smith, “it is now three centuries since an English pig has fallen in a fair battle on English ground, or a farm house been rifled, or a clergyman's wife been subjected to any other proposals of love than the connubial endearments of her sleek and orthodox mate."
In August last, a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the sufficiency of the fortifications existing for the defence of the kingdom, and to consider “the most effectual means of rendering the same complete, especially all such works of defence as are intended for the protection of the royal arsenals and dockyards.” It is understood that the Commissioners have agreed as to their report, and that we may soon hear of a formal proposition to add some ten or twelve millions to the national debt for the purpose of strengthening the defences of our arsenals. It would be absurd in us to pronounce upon the scheme before we have heard what it is ; but if there is a large sum of money to be expended, there are certain principles of which we must not lose sight. Our dockyards and arsenals are Deptford, Woolwich, Chatham, Sheerness, Portsmouth, Devonport, Keyham, and Pembroke. Sir Howard Douglas says of Woolwich arsenal-in some respects the most important of the whole—that it has become a monstrous evil, which cannot be abated, but must be cured. The idea of fortifying it is too extravagant Portsmouth, Keyham, and Devonport, again, all lie within the limits of from one mile to two and a half from low water ; and in reality, none of our dockyards, except Pembroke, which is eight miles from the sea, can be rendered quite secure from the shot and shell of long-range guns. But even if it were possible to render them perfectly secure by means of elaborate fortifications, it is a question whether these fortifications would not demand a larger garrison than our limited military force could well spare. How is little David to fill Goliath's armour ? It seems that if money must be expended it should be on the creation of arsenals beyond the reach of modern cannon from the sea, and also beyond the reach of sudden attack. If Woolwich were destroyed, we should be nearly helpless; and the real question is not how we are to fortify such exposed depots as Woolwich, but where we are to find substitutes