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BRIEF LITERARY NOTICES.
History of Europe from the Fall of Napoleon in 1815, to the Accession of Louis Napoleon in 1852. By Sir Archibald Alison, Bart., D.C.L., &c. Vols. I.-IV. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons. 1855.
THIS important work has now proceeded far enough to enable us to form a tolerable estimate of its general character and value. The period with which it is concerned is less thrilling in interest, and less picturesque in details, than was that of its great predecessor; but what it loses in this respect, the history gains in the greater proximity of the events narrated to the times in which we live, and the interests in which we are at present involved. The powers of our author have certainly attained their full maturity; but we feel bound in justice to say that, apart from an adherence to some favourite old political views, now almost exploded, we cannot discover any decided falling off, either in thought or style. The only chapter in which those powers seem unequal to all the requirements of his great undertaking, is that, in his first volume, in which the author hastily and somewhat feebly criticizes the literary and artistic worthies of the last half century.
The nearer Sir Archibald approaches the present time, and the more he has to deal with the past conduct of living statesmen, the greater must necessarily be the difficulties of his task; but the general spirit of moderation and candour which he has hitherto manifested in the progress of this work, has not deserted him in the treatment of the important matters to which the fourth volume relates. Whilst he does not depart from his usual practice of giving marked expression to his own particular views, he takes great pains to represent, with perfect fairness, the views and arguments of his opponents. The period embraced in the present volume is one of great events. Its political importance cannot be exaggerated; and Sir Archibald has devoted to its study his highest powers. The ten years which intervened between 1822 and 1832, will ever be memorable in the annals of England and of Europe, for the rapid succession of startling events which they witnessed. In England, the passing of the Catholic Relief Bill first, and of the Reform Bill afterwards; in France, the Revolution which placed Louis Philippe on the throne; in Belgium, the Insurrection which separated her from Holland, and gave to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg the Crown of Flanders; and in Poland, another Insurrection, followed by a desperate and bloody war,-these are the leading incidents upon which the historian of this critical epoch has to dwell; and, now that the peace of Europe is again disturbed, and European politics have assumed a new aspect, we may, perhaps,
not unprofitably turn back to the past, and seek, not in vain, in these records, some encouragement for the present, and some guidance for the future. We need make no apology to our readers for giving them an opportunity of judging of the work for themselves; and first about Poland:
"The astonishing stand which Poland, with less than a fourth of its ancient territory and inhabitants, made without external aid against the whole strength of Russia in this memorable year, throws a clear and precious light on the causes of its previous decline and long-continued misfortunes. It had received from the hand of nature all the gifts which are required to make a nation great and powerful,a noble and fertile soil, ample navigable rivers, spacious harbours, a bold and ardent people, passionately attached to freedom. On the other hand, Russia possessed originally far fewer natural advantages. She had, before Peter the Great, no sea-port towns, her territory was less fertile, her inhabitants, till they were swelled by foreign conquest, less numerous, and incomparably less brave and chivalrous. What was it which rendered the one constantly victorious over the other, which rendered Polish history, during five centuries, nothing but a series of misfortunes, casually interrupted by glory,-Muscovite, of durable victories and acquisitions, never stopped by passing disaster? The reason is to be found in the excess of the very spirit which constituted the spring of Polish vitality, which caused them at times to do such great things, at others to commit such enormous and unpardonable faults.
"The spirit which animated Poland was not the regulated principle of Anglo-Saxon liberty, which has rendered England and America the admiration of the globe, but the wild excess of unbridled democracy. Equality, not subordination, was their passion: their stormy comitia, their liberum veto, their delegated representatives, prove it. Their idea of freedom was absence from all control, and, above all, liberation from all taxes. This is the first idea of liberty all over the world; unhappily the Poles never got beyond it. They clung to it to the very last, amidst all their misfortunes, till they were fairly swallowed up and partitioned by their former vassals. Russia, on the other hand, came in process of time to combine the lust of conquest and unity of feeling, which in every age have characterized Asia, to the steady policy, scientific acquisitions, so far as war is concerned, and far-seeing wisdom of Europe. Thus Asia in its strength was brought up against Europe in its weakness; thence the conquest of the one by the other. And accordingly the first and only occasion when the balance really hung even between them, was when the resources of a fragment of ancient Poland had been drawn forth by foreign government, when foreign power had compelled its inhabitants to pay taxes, forced them to raise a regular army, and given consistency to their fiery squadrons."
Another subject which occupies a prominent place in these pages, and which is now once more engaging the earnest attention of all who view politics through the medium of Christian truth, is the Grant to Maynooth. With the historian's views in the main our readers will generally agree :
"Never, perhaps, was there a great public measure which was attended with results so entirely opposite to what was both prophesied
Brief Literary Notices.
and expected in both islands, as Catholic Emancipation. The Liberals predicted an entire cessation of agitation and violence, the extinction of all causes of discord between the two islands, and the knitting together of the Saxon and Celtic population in the bonds of peace, tranquillity, and loyalty. The opponents of Emancipation predicted from it a vast impulse to the Roman persuasion in Great Britain, the destruction of all the safeguards of Protestantism, and possibly the eventual restoration of the Catholic as the ruling faith of the whole empire. It is hard to say which set of predictions has been most completely falsified by the event. Ireland, so far from having been pacified, has been more agitated than ever, since the great healing measure; the cry for the Repeal of the Union has succeeded that for the removal of the disabilities; monster meetings succeeded, and shook the island to its centre; the Whigs themselves were constrained, within five years of the passing of the Relief Bill, to pass a Coercion Act of surpassing severity; and, at length, matters came to such a pass, that a famine of the thirteenth fell on the population of the nineteenth century, and the annual emigration of two hundred and fifty thousand persons at once thinned the redundant numbers, and removed the political dangers, of the Emerald Isle. Catholicism, so far from receiving an impulse, has, from the same cause, met with the greatest check it has received in Great Britain since the Reformation: it has become rampant, and revealed its inherent ambition; and the consequence has been a vast revulsion of opinion in the middle and ruling classes of the empire against the tenets of the Vatican, and a determination to resist its encroachments, unexampled since the Revolution. The Catholic faith has been embraced by several ladies of rank who sighed for an ecclesiastical opera, and many of fashion who desired the sway of confession, and by some inexperienced men of genius who dreamt of the amiable illusion of unity of belief; but it has been sturdily resisted by the great body of the people. The Grant to Maynooth, small as it is, with difficulty passes the House of Commons; and no one doubts that a reformed House of Commons would never have passed the Relief Bill.
Yet, though the results have thus falsified the predictions, and been at variance with the expectations, of all parties, an impartial consideration of the circumstances of the case leads to the conviction, that Emancipation was a wise and just measure, and such as, under the administration of a beneficent Providence, might be expected to be attended, even in this world, with its deserved reward. It was not for the reasons of policy and State necessity, which were so powerfully put forward by Mr. Peel, strong and unanswerable as they undoubtedly were; it was advisable for a greater and more lasting reason,— that it was in itself just and equitable. Opinion is not the fit ground either of exclusion, penalty, or punishment; it is acts only which are So. Differences of religious belief are imprinted on the mind so generally by the influence of parentage, habit, country, and circumstances, that they are for the most part as unavoidable as the colour of the hair, or the stature of the body. The legislator is entitled to take cognizance of them, only when they lead to external acts; and when they do so, let those acts be coerced or punished with vigour and justice. So great have been the evils which have arisen from persecution for differences of religious opinion, that they have gone far to
neutralize the whole blessings of Christianity, and led some sceptical observers to hesitate whether it has brought most happiness or misery to mankind. It is the disgrace of Catholicism, that it first began this atrocious system, and forced retaliation upon its opponents as a matter, at the time, of necessity. It is the glory of Protestantism, that it first inscribed toleration on its banners, and practised it-like the Duke of York, in answer to the decree of the Convention forbidding quarter-upon the most inveterate and unrelenting of its opponents.' With Sir Archibald's opinions upon the Reform Bill, most moderate politicians will disagree; and the reader will do well to remember, when perusing his estimate of living statesmen, the strong political bias of the writer. The following is his character of Lord Palmerston :
"If there is any British statesman of his age who has acquired a European reputation, it may safely be pronounced to be Lord Palmerston, whose name will be for ever associated with the great change in our foreign policy, and the substitution of Liberal for Conservative alliances...... His abilities are not only of the highest order, but they are of the most marketable description. No man knows better how to address himself in speaking to the prevailing feelings and tastes of his audience; in acting, to the inclination and interests of the class in society upon which his influence is rested. Great as are his talents, varied his accomplishments, they are rendered still more powerful by the versatility of their possessor. He can be, when he pleases, all things to all men. He has been a member of every Administration, with the single exception of the short one of Lord Derby in 1852, for the last fifty years. He has alternately aided in expelling his former friends from power, and reinstating them in office; yet, strange to say, his character for consistency has not materially suffered from all these changes. The reason is, that all men see that, like the Duke of Wellington, his leading principle has always been the advancement of the power and glory of his country; and that he has taken a part in so many Administrations, because they successively furnished him with the means of advancing that primary object. He has been, through life, not so much a statesman as a diplomatic soldier of the State.
"His talents for diplomacy and administration are unquestionably of a very high order. To immense acquaintance with foreign treaties and conventions he unites the rarer but not less essential knowledge of courts and statesmen, and the prevailing influences by which they are severally governed. As Secretary-at-War during the contest with Napoleon, and Home Secretary under Queen Victoria, his administrative powers have been equally conspicuous; and such are his oratorical talents, that no man can with greater certainty alternately keep the attention of the House of Commons awake during a long detail of diplomatical proceedings, or fascinate a popular audience by the beauties of a varied and highly-wrought eloquence. Indefatigable in his attention to business, he yet finds time, as men of a similar energetic turn of mind often do, for the pleasures of society; and much of his political influence is owing to the charm which manners of the highest breeding, and courtesy of the most finished kind, lend to a varied and delightful conversation.
"The great fault of this accomplished Minister--and it is a very serious one, for it has more than once brought his country to the brink of the most serious danger is, that he never calculates the
Brief Literary Notices.
means at his disposal for effecting the projects which he has at heart, and engages in designs which he has not the means of carrying through, or stimulates movements in other countries which he has not the means of supporting. Bred in the school of Pitt, and essentially patriotic in his feelings and ideas, he sometimes forgets the difference in the situation and power of the country at different times, and has often held as high language in diplomatic intercourse, when a reformed House of Commons had not left twenty thousand disposable men in the country, or ten ships of the line to form a Channel fleet, as when Lord Castlereagh wielded the power of one hundred and fifty thousand men, and one hundred ships of the line bore the royal flag. A sincere friend of freedom, he has sometimes proved its worst enemy, by stimulating movements of the Liberal party among the excitable inhabitants of other States, which the people of this country had neither the means nor the inclination to support, and by being forced, in consequence, to leave them to be crushed by the military force of despotic States. With admirable skill he arranged all the other powers of Europe to check the ambition of France on the Eastern Question in 1840; and it was owing to the influence of his diplomacy that the cordial alliance of France and England was formed which put such a bridle in the mouth of Russia in 1854. But on other occasions his ill-timed assertions of British influence have been attended with the utmost hazard; for they brought us to the verge of a war with France, and once with France and Russia united, at a time when the country was wholly unprepared to maintain a contest with either the one or the other."
Upon the whole, the volume contains a fair and candid narrative of an important decade. Deducting a somewhat excessive attachment to old opinions, and to their champion, Lord Derby, we consider the volume fully maintains the character of the work, and will not diminish the fame of its author. We grant, indeed, that the value of that fame, and the merits of that work, admit of easy detraction and dispute. The "History of Europe " finds no welcome at the hands of the fastidious, no praise from the hyper-critical. It is a great work, notwithstanding,-not classical in style, nor perfect in its judgments; but faithful, comprehensive, full of life and interest;--a history suited to the requirements of a busy earnest people, for whom the genius of a Tacitus or a Hume might be exercised in vain.
L'Eglise et les Philosophes au 18° Siècle. Par M. Lanfrey. Paris. 1855.
THIS is one of the most extraordinary books we have had the good fortune to see for a long time. Not that it displays any great learning, or any signs of genius; but it is an evidence of the deep fermentation that exists still throughout all the classes of French society it is, if we may so say, a symptomatic work. We might fancy we had before us a patient, whose excited pulse and heated complexion would, of course, elicit at once from us the verdict that he is labouring under a fever, and that the sooner he applies to the physician the better. M. Lanfrey's volume is a pamphlet, nothing. else; but it is a pamphlet which seems as if it had been written thirty years ago, and had sprung up from the columns of the old "Constitutionnel." What then? Have we retrograded to the days of