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average size of the French conscripts is Figurative illustrations are as fatal to Mr. stated, a few pages before, at only five feet Alison as they are, indeed, to most writers English-(ix. 105.) In 1800, the French who are at once careless and ambitious. armies appear to have unjustly seized some His opinion of the age of George III. is exEnglish vessels at Leghorn, an acquisition pressed by an astronomical metaphor, which which,' in the singular phraseology of Mr. he has contrived to distort with a perverse Alison, 'speedily recoiled upon the heads of ingenuity rarely surpassed. 'Bright,' he those who acquired them.'-(iv. 381.) In says, 'as were the stars of its morning light, the campaign of Austerlitz we find the Aus- more brilliant still was the constellation trians defeated by Murat, 'who made 1800 which shone forth in its meridian splendor, of their wearied columns prisoners, (v. 406) or cast a glow over the twilight of its even-a capture which, supposing the statement ing shades.'-(vii, 3.) The simile would to be literally true, and the columns of have been perfect of its kind, if Mr. Alison arerage size, must have embraced nearly had but added that his constellation had disthe whole male population of the empire. appeared, as constellations are wont to do, Aod shortly after, we are informed, that the in the darkness of the ensuing night. In French arıny celebrated the anniversary of the same manner, he speaks of a narrative Napoleon's coronation by the 'spontaneous as 'linged with undue bias,' (Pref. xxxi.)combustion of their huis.—(v. 474.) We of a historical work as 'closed with a ray will not go farther with examples of this of glory,' (Pref. xxxviii.)-of a truth as.prosort, but we cannot forbear soliciting Mr. claimed in characters of fire to mankind.' Alison's attention to two crying defects ;-|(viii. 7.) We cannot omit the two followhis profuse and unscrupulous use of the ing sentences, which we consider to be almost barbarous Scotticisms, and the con- most unique. The first contains a simile fased and even ambiguous arrangenient of which to us is utterly unintelligible the bis antecedents and relatives. With all other an elaborate confusion of metaphor, these imperfections, Mr. Alison's history wbich nothing but the most patient ingenuhas merits sufficient to atone, even to those ity can unravel. In 1787,' says Mr. Alireaders who consider only their own amuse. son,' Goethe, profound and imaginative, ment, for the want of an easy and polished was reflecting on the destiny of man on style. The stirring interest of the events earth, like a cloud which “turns up its silver which he relates, his judgment in selecting lining to the moon." !-(vii. 103.) 'In Lin. striking traits of character for preservation, næus she (Sweden) has for ever unfolded his earnest seriousness of manner, and his the hidden key by which the endless variety obvious honesty of purpose--all combine to of floral beauty is to be classified, and the make his narrative on the whole both inter- mysterious link is preserved between vege. esting and impressive.
table and animal life.'-(viji. 612*.) We cannot speak so favorably of the dis- Mr. Alison does not wear bjs borrowed quisitions on political events and charac-plumes with a better grace than his original ters, which abound throughout his work. ornaments. The following is an instance With all our respect for his merits as a his- of a fine thought carelessly appropriated torian, we are bound to declare our honest and thoroughly spoiled. The British Bard opinion, that the attempts displayed in them in Gray's fainous ode speaks of the banners at impassioned and declamatory eloquence, of his victorious enemy as ' fanned by conare generally very far below mediocrity. quesi's crimson wing.' Mr. Alison has We have already noticed some of the blun. adorned a passage of his history with this ders into which he has been betrayed in the easy and spirited metaphor; but he has course of his ordinary narrative. Few most unskilfully trausferred the ventilation writers soar more easily or more securely from the banners to the minds of the conthan they walk ; and Mr. Alison's oratorical querors, and assures us, that it is not while digressions abound in examples of pointless - fanned by conquest's crimson wing," that anti-climax, of quaint and ungrammatical the real motives of human conduct can be inversion, of the carefully balanced antithe- made apparent.'-(ix. 104.) A similar and sis of synonymous ideas, of periods rounded still more painful example of bad taste is to with sonorous pomp, yet constructed with be found in the very next page. All the sloveoly obscurity. But we are in haste to springs,' says he, which the world can dismiss this ungracious part of our task, furnish to sustain the fortunes of an empire, and we shall therefore content ourselves were in full activity, and worked with con. with pointing out a few individual blem- summate ability ; but one (query three ?) was ishes, the removal of which we are particu: wanting, without which, in the hour of trial, larly anxious to effect.
| all the others are but as tinkling brass-a
belief in God, a sense of duty, and a faith We do not think it necessary to apoloin immortality. The celebrated passage gize for having dwelt so long upon a subfrom which Mr. Alison has here borrowed ject which we have already admitted to be an illustration, is familiar to all our readers. of secondary importance. If we believed It is that in which St. Paul compares the that Mr. Alison had failed in one branch of eloquence of an idle declaimer to the tink. his history from real want of ability, we ling of a cymbal. The original phrase is should have thought it ungenerous to mor. one of such admirable point and force as to tify the author of a valuable and laborious have become almost proverbial. But how work, by cavilling at the false taste of its has its merit survived Mr. Alison's appro- embellishments. But we cannot imagine priation ? He seizes on one half of the that this is the case. It is impossible that simile, severs it from the other, and tacks a man of Mr. Alison's talents and knowit to a new object with which it has no na ledge should be deliberately blind to the tural connexion whatever. Nothing can be defects and the nonsense we have been more apt and lively than the comparison of quoting. Most of these blemishes are such unmeaning verbosity to the empty ringing as a little reflection would induce a sensible of metal, as every one who studies Mr. schoolboy to strike out of his theme. We Alison's specimens of declamation will al- are apt to think that Mr. Alison has nelow. But how does such a comparison glected these parts of his work; that he express the inefficiency of a mechanical has sketched them when fatigued and exforce ? For aught we know, a spring may cited by his labors; and that he has left be of brass, and of tinkling brass too, and the first rough draught unaltered for pubyet be sufficiently strong and elastic. Alication. We are unwilling to deal barshly better illustration, or a worse adaptation, with such errors. There is something both of the apostle's forcible image, than the striking and gratifying in the spectacle of passage just quoted, we do not expect again a writer who is scrupulous of historical to see.
truth and justice, but negligent of his own Tedious self-repetition, the most invete- literary fame—who lavishes that time and rate fault of careless and declamatory wri. trouble in ascertaining his facts, which he ters, has been carried by Mr. Alison to an omits to employ in polishing his style. We almost unprecedented extent. We have are confident that Mr. Alison might, with a neither space nor time to extract some of little care and patience, correct more sehis digressions, in which the selfsame cur. rious faults than those we have noticed ; rent of ideas is run through twice or thrice and should this prove to be the case, we in various language. But the mere recur. shall not be sorry if we have made him feel rence of favorite phrases cannot fail to a certain degree of regret for their comstrike and displease the most careless mission. reader. The bow of Esop, the small black As a military historian, Mr. Alison has cloud of Elijah, the boon of Polypheme to received general and merited applause. Ulysses, together with numberless less re. His narratives of warlike operations are markable allusions and expressions, are ap- well arranged, minute, and spirited; and plied three or four times each, precisely display considerable scientific knowledge. under the same circumstances, and almost He is particularly remarkable for the clear in the same words. Winds, waves, me- and accurate descriptions which he never teors, thunderbolts, earthquakes, and simi. fails to give of the situations in which the lar phenomena of all sorts, are constantly most important manœuvres of the war took ready to be let loose upon the reader; nor, place. His sketches are written with as however frequently he may have sustained much spirit as topographical knowledge ; thein, is he ever, for a single page, secure and he not only impresses on the memory against their recurrence. As a proof that the principal features of the scene of action, we have not exaggerated the frequency of but generally succeeds in conveying a vivid this unpleasing practice, we must, in justice picture of them to the imagination. He to ourselves, refer our readers to the first appears, indeed, to have been induced, by fifteen pages of Mr. Alison's eighth volume; his strong interest in the subject, to visit within which short space they will find no most of Napoleon's fields of battle in perless than thirteen similes and illustrations son; and it is but just to say, that he has drawn from light and color, of which surveyed them with the feeling of an artist nearly one-half are crowded into twenty. and the precision of a tactician. five consecutive lines, and no less than The lively coloring of Mr. Alison's defour are expressed in the same identical scriptions of battles is, in general, as pleasphrase.
|ing as the accuracy of the outline is praiseworthy. He has a strong and manly sym-tion. It is impossible not to feel animated pathy with military daring and devotion, by the fiery energy, and the graphic miwhich never blinds him to the sufferings nuteness of his descriptions. But his most inflicted by war, but which leads him to give partial admirers will allow, that the more warm and impartial praise to every brave fancisul and brilliant peculiarities of his action, by wbichever party achieved. We style, are such as must make all attempts might easily fill our pages with interesting at imitation difficult and dangerous to an extracts of this nature ; but we must con. unusual degree. Its fervent impetuosity tent ourselves with referring our readers to occasionally overpowers even its master, the work itself. There is scarcely an im- and it is unlikely to prove more docile in portant victory of the war which Mr. Alison less familiar hands. Colonel Napier's gebas not related in the fullest detail, and nius, if we may be pardoned the comparison, with the strictest impartiality. We may resembles those Indian figurantes described also remark the successful art with which by Captain Mundy in his amusing sketches, he occasionally pauses, in the most critical whose chief difficulty is to restrain within moment of a great battle, to remind his graceful limits the superabundant supplereaders, by a word dexterously thrown in, ness and agility of their limbs. It is the of the mighty interests at stake. It is an luxuriant vivacity of the writer's imagina. artifice to which he has perhaps too freely tion, and his unlimited command of pointed resorted, but which he occasionally em- and original language, that occasion the ploys with marked effect.
| principal blemishes in his style. And it is Still, Mr. Alison's finest descriptions are impossible to deny, that when he gives the occasionally marred by the same faults rein to his fancy, it occasionally hurries which we have remarked in his political him across the fatal step which separates dissertations ; by the same tendency to the sublime, we will not say from the ridiflights of poetical extravagance; the same culous, but assuredly from the quaint and wearisome repetitions; the same flow of grotesque. sonorous verbosity. We forbear to recom. We are far from accusing Mr. Alison of mence our reluctant strictures upon these caricaturing Colonel Napier's manner. We faults of style; but there is a single error think his descriptions a softened, and in which we are unwilling to pass over, be some respects an improved copy of those cause we believe it to be peculiar to this of his great original. But Colonel Napier's branch of the narrative. We allude to the battle-pieces are in a style which will not occasional substitution of the present for bear softening--we had almost said, in a the past tense in the relation of events. It style which will not bear improvement. is one of the most unimpressive and un. We know no description so appropriate to pleasing artifices which a writer can em- it as the quaint expression applied by Henry ploy-rarely admissible in narrative poetry, Grattan to Lord Chatham's oratory—that scarcely ever in prose romance, and utterly it was very great, and very odd.' Its ecinconsistent with the sober dignity of the centricity cannot be corrected without historical style. Much of all this is, no weakening its energy; it is either strikdoubt, to be attributed to the incorrectness ingly yet irregularly lofty, or it becomes of taste indisputably displayed by Mr. Ali tame, hollow, and exaggerated. With Coson in many of the more impassioned pas- lonel Napier himself the last is never the sages of his work ; but much, we suspect, case. His faults are as racy and as characis owing to an injudicious and indiscrimi- teristic as his beauties; and in his boldest nate, though just and laudable, admiration offences against taste, his originality and for the genius of a rival historian.
vigor are conspicuous. Mr. Alison frequently speaks with warm Still, this lively melodramatic style, even and generous applause of the ardent mili- when most successful, is not that which we tary eloquence which distinguishes the style prefer for historical narrative. We are no of Colonel Napier. Nothing can be more very rigid advocates for what is called the handsomely expressed than this feeling ; dignity of history. We have no doubt that but we suspect that it has occasionally be thousands of interesting facts have perishtrayed Mr. Alison into unconscious, and ed, never to be recovered, by the supercil. not always happy, imitation. We appre ious neglect of over formal historians. We ciate as highly as any one the force and would have all circumstances preserved originality of the language employed by which can add the least effect to the narthis great military historian. Among all rative, however trivial they may appear. his high qualities none is more conspicuous But we do not see the advantage of ornathan the warmth and vigor of his narra. I mental descriptions, however striking in
themselves, which comprise merely gen- is in comparison with the beautiful statue. eral and common-place particulars, such as of the Attacking Gladiator. Both figures could not but accompany the main facts are admirable works of art, and both are 1 related. There is, surely, something un- represented in the act of vehement and I pleasing in seeing a historian, while re- victorious exertion. But how striking is counting events which shook and terrified the contrast between the desperate energy all Europe, glance aside to notice the trem- of the mortal, and the serene indifference bling of the earth under a heavy cannonade, of the divinity! or the glittering of helmets in a charge of During the twenty-five years included in cavalry. We object to such flights, not Mr. Alison's History, Europe was so perpet. because they are beneath the dignity of the ually involved in war, that in giving our narrative, but because they diminish the opinion of his merits as a military histori. "! simplicity to which it must owe much of an, we may be said to have pronounced its awful effect; and because they can be upon those of the whole narrative part of far more imposingly supplied by the imagi. his work. But he has taken great pains to y nation of the reader. It is not by such give his readers the most complete infor. 4 rhetorical arts as these, that the great mas- mation of all the internal transactions of ters of history have produced their most the chief European nations, during that pe. successful effects. Thucydides has never riod. He has, as he informs us, made it once throughout his work departed from his rule to give the arguments for and the grave and simple dignity of his habitual against any public measures in the words style. Yet what classical scholar will of those who originally brought them for. ever forget the condensed pathos and energy ward, without any attempt at paraphrase with which he has described the desolation or abridgement. This is more particular. of Athens during the pestilence, or the ly the case in the debates of the National overthrow of the Syracusan expedition ? Assembly of France, the Parliament of Froissart is a still more extraordinary in England, and the Council of State under stance. Without for a moment suffering Napoleon....It is,' as he justly bimself to be raised above his ordinary tone remarks, the only mode by which the spirit of easy and almost childish garrulity, he has and feelings of the moment could be faithyet attained that chivalrous ardor of ex- fully transmitted to posterity, or justice pression, which, to borrow the emphatic done to the motives, on either side, which words of Sidney, 'stirs the heart like the influenced mankind.'-(Pref. xliv.) Provsound of a trumpet.' What soldier evertidence,' says Mr. Alison, 'has so interworead without enthusiasm his account of the ven human affairs, that when we wish to battle of Crecy? Not, we are confident, retrace the revolutions of a people, and to Colonel Napier, whose warm and ready investigate the causes of their grandeur sympathy with the brave is one of his no- or misfortune, we are insensibly conduct. blest qualities as a historian. The brillianted step by step to their cradle.-(ii. 536.) array of the French chivalry—the fierce The historian has accordingly interwoven gestures and fell cry of the undisciplined with his narrative several very interesting Genoese—the motionless silence of the and comprehensive sketches of the previEnglish archery—the sudden and deadly ous history and political state of those naflight of arrows—the mad confusion of the tions who took the most prominent share routed army ;-all are painted with the life in events. We may particularize those of and vigor of Homer himself. And yet the France, England, Russia, Turkey, and Po. chronicler has not employed a shade of land, as the most complete and elaborate. fanciful coloring or poetical ornament-his They include a general description of the whole narrative is full of the same simple population, of the nature and capabilities and delightful naïveté with which he com.l of the countries in question, and contain mends the innocence of the Black Prince's much valuable statistical information. We oaths; or celebrates the 'small hat of bea. think Mr. Alison mistaken in some of the ver' which became Edward III. so marvel maxims and theories which he draws from lously at the battle of Sluys. In reading these views of European history ; but it is such passages as these, we feel the same impossible to refuse him the merit of much admiration as in seeing an athlete perform accurate knowledge, and much patient and some feat of surpassing strength, without ingenious reflection. the distortion of a feature or a muscle. Mr. Alison's principal and fatal error is They are, in comparison with the florid and one which we can only lament; for we can highly wrought style on which we have neither blame him for its existence, por been remarking, what the Belvidere Apollo wonder at its effects-he is a rigid, a sin.
cere, and an intolerant Tory. This is the born Englishman, sufficient to cause a civil whole extent of his offence. His opinions war. He then proceeds to notice several are displayed with sufficient fairness, if circumstances which were likely to render not always with perfect taste and modes the French nation, at that moment, pecuty ;-he does not permit them to pervert liarly impatient of the hardships they had to his statements of facts, though he seldom endure. So far, nothing can be more satloses an opportunity of asserting them in isfactory. He has clearly shown that a all their uncharitable austerity. To this sudden and violent change was inevitable; practice every liberal-minded reader, of and that, without the utmost skill and firmhorever opposite principles, will easily ness in the government, that change was reconcile himself. He will, it is true, have likely to be followed by fatal excesses. to travel through an interesting tract of But he goes on to declare, in all the emhistory, in company with an honorable op- pbasis of capital type, that the circumstanponent, instead of a sympathizing friend. ces which have now been mentioned, withHe will necessarily lose much pleasure, out doubt contributed to the formation of and some instruction; but a few precau- that discontent which formed the predis. tions will ensure him against injury or an- posing cause of the Revolution. But the Boyance.
exciting cause, as physicians would sayIn common with nearly all political wri. the immediate source of the convulsion ters of the present day, we have had re was the SPIRIT OF INNOVATION, which, like peated occasion to pronounce our opinion a malady, overspread France at that cri. both upon revolutions in general, and in sis, precipitated all classes into a passion particolar upon that which forms the main for changes, of which they were far from subject of Mr. Alison's history. We shall perceiving the ultimate effect, and in the not, of course, repeat our arguments in end produced evils far greater than those detail; as we see no occasion to correct they were intended to remove. . . . . the conclusions which we drew from them. It would seem,' he adds, 'as if, at particWe shall merely allude to them so far as ular periods, from causes inscrutable to may be necessary for the purpose of com- human wisdom, an universal frenzy seizes paring them with the opinions of Mr. Alison mankind; reason, experience, prudence, respecting the causes, the character, and the are alike blinded, and the very persons who consequences of the French Revolution. are to perish in the storm are the first to
We must, however, preface our observa. raise its fury:'-(i. 149.) This is a good tions by declaring, that we have found con- specimen of the superficial verbiage which siderable difficulty in extracting any consis. formed the chorus of the English Tory tent and definite opinion, from the present press fifty years ago. We confess that we work, upon the general tendency of that always considered it strange language to event. We have been wholly unable to come from shrewd, sensible men of the reconcile the author's calm and just re- world—from men who, when reasoning on marks upon the nature of the French gove the crimes and follies of social life, would ernment under the ancient régime, with his have been the first to laugh such vague jarvague and incoherent bursts of invective gon to scorn. Still these men had at least against the spirit by which it was subver- an excuse which Mr. Alison has not. The ted. He speaks of violent revolutions, explanation, bad as it was, was the best sometimes as the stern but beneficial pun. they had to give. They did not possess the ishments of tyranny and corruption—some information which we now have, respecttimes as national fits of insanity, the judging the system which had brutalized and ment of Providence upon moral profligacy enraged the French people ; and if they and religious skepticism. His logic con- had, they might be excused, at such a crivinces us that what he is pleased to call the sis, for failing to reason justly upon it. revolutionary mania is in itself a very nat. But we are at loss to conceive how Mr. Aliural feeling-the instinctive desire of the son can think it necessary to aid the effect oppressed for peace and security. His rhet- of his able and conclusive details, by a oric wonld persuade us that it is a mysteri. solution so feeble and unmeaning as the ous epidemic, displaying itself merely by a above. We forgive the schoolmen of the morbid thirst for innovation, and an insane middle ages for saying that the water rises delight in crime. In his second chapter, in the pump because nature abhors a vacuhe details nearly a dozen intolerable griev- um ; for the answer was merely a pompous ances which existed in France down to the confession of ignorance. But what should first outbreak of popular violence; almost we think of a modern philosopher who any one of which would appear, to a free- should solve the same problem by telling